Marie Collins is tired, not surprisingly. Dealing with the grinding, mechanical mindset she has encountered again and again at senior levels in the Catholic Church would have long since killed off the determination of a lesser person.
In her seventh decade, she has spent the last three of those focused on one thing – making the Catholic Church a safer place for children. In her own young life she knew it to be otherwise. She later discovered the lengths to which it would go to protect itself, even if that meant further violation of the innocent.
She was aged 13 in 1960 when she was sexually abused by the then chaplain at Dublin’s Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. He has since been convicted of the crime and of the abuse of other children.
In the 1980s, while receiving counselling for her abuse, she was advised to report it to church authorities. The priest she approached refused to take details and implied the abuse was her fault. “Shattered”, she returned to silence for 10 more years.
Prompted by the furore following the jailing of Fr Brendan Smyth in Belfast, after a 40-year career of abusing children, and fearful that her own abuser might still be active, she went to Dublin church authorities in 1995.
Her abuser admitted his guilt to the church authorities but they refused to confirm this to investigating gardaí or hand over his files to them.
As reports of her abuse appeared in newspapers, the parish priest in her Dublin suburb told Massgoers they were not to believe her. Read Catholic papers instead, he said.
In 1996 then Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Connell told her that the church’s new, much touted child protection guidelines were “only guidelines” and had no authority in civil or canon law. When she went public about this she was chastised by a church official who said she had been told in “a private conversation”.
As a private person herself, who has “never enjoyed the public side”, she felt she “had to speak out, as others had done. The fact that criminal child abusers were being protected by their superiors needed to be known if it was to be stopped”.
Reflecting on her own journey, on the publication of the 2009 Murphy report into the handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations in Dublin, she said it had been “a very, very rough road”.
That was after dealing with church authorities in Dublin. Since 2014 she has been dealing with the daddy of them all, probably the oldest and most skilled bureaucracy in the world, the Roman Curia.
A member of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors for the past two years, she has found out that even the Pope himself can have decisions rendered as nought by splendid inaction on the part of the Curia.
For example, there is the Vatican tribunal set up last year to hold bishops to account on the handling of abuse cases. “We as a commission put forward the proposal. It went to the Council of Cardinals, they approved it. It went forward to the Pope. He approved it. It was announced in the press, then it went to be implemented and that’s where the brick wall is,” she said.
Nothing has happened since. “The implementation is the problem,” she said.
“As far as the commission is concerned the work has been done and the Pope has approved it.”
The same happened with commission proposals for the training of new bishops. At the commission’s very first meeting in 2014 she proposed “that we should develop a training module on child protection and on abuse” so “every new bishop coming through would have some training in the issue and how to handle it and some understanding. That way every new bishop in the world who is appointed from now on would have a good understanding, and that we would work on this training and develop it.”
Later in 2014 this was “approved by the Holy Father and he actually suggested it be expanded to [include] the Curia as well as the new bishops.” But within the Curia, the administrative apparatus of the Holy See, “there was great resistance to it”, she said.
It “has become apparent that there are those in the Curia who feel that the commission becoming involved is almost an interference with the work as it has always been done,” she said.
Last week it emerged that current Vatican training guidelines for new bishops stated it was not necessarily the duty of a bishop to immediately report child clerical abuse suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors.
Collins says she was “horrified, absolutely horrified” to hear this. “It couldn’t be further from best practice if you tried to. It’s the moral duty of any church leader to report.”
She feels “very frustrated at the difficulties with the Curia and I wouldn’t be surprised if other members (of the Commission) felt the same, but I cannot speak for them,” she said.
“I’m personally frustrated with the lack of co-operation from the Curia and the fact it can be so detrimental to the work of the commission and the protection of children in the future. That’s where the focus should be,” she said.
She said she had “made my concerns known to the Pope, very recently. I am waiting to see what comes of it”.