Vatican Summit Sees Abuse Victim Speak out

The Province
February 7, 2012

Irish abuse victim Marie Collins (L) speaks to AFP reporters as she arrives at the "Towards Healing and Renewal" summit for Catholic bishops at the Gregorian university on February 6, 2012 in Rome. Collins says apologies for abuse are not enough.
Photo by Filippo Monteforte

VATICAN CITY - Shunned by the Catholic Church for decades after being violated by a priest when she was just 13 years old, Irish victim Marie Collins described her traumatic experience at a Vatican summit.

"I had just turned 13 and was at my most vulnerable, a sick child in hospital, when a priest sexually assaulted me," Collins said on Tuesday.

She had just been confirmed a Catholic when the young priest - a couple of years out of the seminary but "already a skilled child molester" - began visiting her in the evenings while she lay in a hospital bed in Dublin.

"When he began to sexually interfere with me, pretending at first, he was being playful, I was shocked and resisted, telling him to stop. He did not stop," she said in front of the conference of bishops and cardinals.

"While assaulting me he would respond to my resistance by telling me 'he was a priest, he could do no wrong,'" she said.

"He took photographs of the most private parts of my body and told me I was stupid if I thought it was wrong. He had power over me. I did not know how to tell anyone. I just prayed he would not do it again, but he did.

"Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before were the next morning holding and offering me the sacred host. The hands that held the camera to photograph my exposed body, in the light of day were holding a prayer book when he came to hear my confession.

"I had been taught that priests were above normal men. I did not turn against my religion, I turned against myself," she said.

"When I left the hospital I was not the same child who had entered."

Now an anti-abuse campaigner, the 64-year-old Collins told Catholic leaders that it was not enough for the Church to apologize for the abuse itself, they also had to recognize the harm done to victims in years of denial and cover-up.

Her own experience revealed a deeply-entrenched belief in the hierarchy of the Church that sex abuse was best hushed up by relocating problematic priests.

After years of treatment for mental illness brought on by feelings of guilt, Collins finally told a doctor about the abuse when she was 47.

He persuaded her to go to the Church about the priest, but when Collins met with her parish priest, she says he refused to listen and blamed her.

"He said he saw no need to report the chaplain. He told me what happened was probably my fault. This response shattered me. I could not face talking of it again so I stopped seeing my doctor," she said.

A decade later while reading news about a serial paedophile priest she realised that other children might have been damaged by the same priest who hurt her and Collins wrote to her archbishop and a canon lawyer.

But she was shocked by their reaction.

"The priest who sexually assaulted me was protected by his superiors from prosecution. I was treated as someone with an agenda against the Church, the police investigation was obstructed. I was distraught," she said.

Like many others who have spoken out about their abuse at the hands of priests, Collins said her anguish was greatly exasperated by the failure of Church leaders to stop those accused of assault from working with children.

"The archbishop considered my abuse historical so felt in would be unfair to tarnish the priest's 'good name' now," she said.

"I have heard this argument from others in leadership in the Catholic Church and always there is blindness to the current risk to children from these men. Why?" she asked.

The priest was eventually brought to justice and jailed and Collins has since become a leading voice in Ireland pushing for justice for victims.

She said she struggled with the decision to attend the Vatican's symposium after years of conflict with the Church.

"The final death of any respect that might have survived in me towards my religious leaders came after my abuser's conviction," she said.

"I learned that the diocese had discovered, just months after my abuse, that this priest was abusing children in the hospital, but did nothing about it except move him to a new parish," she added.

"How do I regain my respect for the leadership of my Church?"


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