POPE Must Overrule Those Resisting Tougher Child Protection Rules

By Martin O'Brien
The Irish News
March 11, 2016

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in Spotlight. The film tells the riveting story of how the Boston Globe newspaper finally uncovered the scale of clerical sex abuse in the region and its systematic cover-up, has put the spotlight back on the Church’s handling of the scandals

Martin O'Brien

THE significance of the movie ‘Spotlight’ winning the Oscar for best picture should not be lost on anyone.

Least of all on those in the Roman Curia who are impeding the best efforts of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to ensure that the Catholic Church worldwide learns every possible lesson from the clerical sex abuse scandals that have shamed the Church in recent decades.

There is arguably no more powerful a medium for shaping public opinion than a blockbuster movie that has won the ultimate accolade for its brilliant production values and praise for speaking truth to power.

Spotlight, which tells the riveting story of how the Boston Globe newspaper finally uncovered the scale of clerical sex abuse in the region and its systematic cover-up, has put the spotlight back on the Church’s handling of the scandals.

This at a time when Dublin woman, Marie Collins, a survivor of clerical sex abuse from the age of 13 and a member of the pontifical commission has revealed that the Curia is blocking the implementation of some of the commission’s key recommendations that have been approved by Pope Francis.

I have been an admirer of Pope Francis, the holder of probably the most onerous public post in the world, from when I reported his election for the BBC almost exactly three years ago.

However, I felt he was slow in his response to the scandals until he established the commission, a permanent body, to advise him on measures to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Francis said little about child abuse in the early days. His immediate priorities included reform of the Curia or the Vatican civil service. Now I see why.

It is pertinent to recall that in 2014 Pope Francis exhorted the Curia to undergo a pre-Christmas examination of conscience since it was suffering from any number of spiritual diseases.

He used phrases such as “the pathology of power” and “a superiority complex” in a scathing critique of the Curia.

Now we have the testimony of Marie Collins in several interviews including one last week with Wendy Grace of iCatholic Player (

I have known Mrs Collins for nearly 15 years, from when she first told the shocking story of her abuse by a newly ordained priest in 1960 and its horrifying aftermath over several decades which we needn’t recount here.

She is one of the bravest people I have met and all the more impressive because of her restraint, measured words and continuing willingness to help the Church resolve this issue.

In her interview Mrs Collins said that as “a survivor” she found it “very difficult” that there might be men in top positions in the Church “who are still feeling that there isn’t a need for change and are resisting change even when it is recommended by a child protection commission and approved by the Pope”.

Parts of the Curia are resisting the implementation of two key proposals by the commission.

These are the establishment of a tribunal that would hold bishops to account for negligence in child protection and the introduction of a child protection module in the training of new bishops, something the Pope said should also apply to the training of the Curia, according to Mrs Collins. These are pre-eminently good ideas.

Ordinary Catholics may be dismayed and angry but they should not be surprised. It is not too difficult to work out what is going on.

There are some in dicasteries (departments) such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and elsewhere who resent “interference” from any quarter, especially a pontifical commission set up under canon law by the Pope himself, reporting directly to him, composed mainly of lay persons, with a good representation of women.

The fact that its president is a cardinal, the humble and determined Sean Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap, archbishop of Boston, cuts little ice.

They may be frustrating the commission in the knowledge that Pope Francis will not be around forever and hoping that his successor will give such dangerous ideas short shrift.

This attitude is appalling given recent history and potentially endangers children. It sends mixed messages and is undermining of those maintaining tough safeguarding regimes in countries such as Ireland.

It smacks of clericalism of the worst kind, “the comfortable sin of clericalism” as so aptly described by Pope Francis.

The overruling of these men is just one of the tasks in the Holy Father’s in-tray as he commences the fourth year of his pontificate.








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