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Vatican Responds To Pa. Grand Jury Report On Abuse Of Children By Clergy


On Tuesday of this week, a grand jury reported that more than a thousand children were sexually abused in Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses in cases stretching back decades. Yesterday, the Vatican responded. It said it condemned the abuse and that there needs to be accountability for both the abusers and those who did nothing to stop this. We're joined first by NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome to talk about the Vatican's response.

Hi, Sylvia.


GREENE: So a strongly worded statement from the church here - I just want to ask you about the context of this because a few months ago - right? - the pope was casting doubts on the accounts of victims from Chile. So what has happened here?

POGGIOLI: Well, this has really been the year that clerical sex abuse scandals across the world have really hit the Vatican. You're right. He went to visit Chile, and he very callously dismissed allegations of abuse by many victims. And he was roundly criticized in the media, and he did a turnaround. He issued a major mea culpa, admitting that he had mishandled the case. He invited the victims to the Vatican, spoke with them privately. And then he accepted the resignation of many of the bishops who had been involved in the cover-up. And just last month, he accepted the resignation - which has never happened, hardly ever happened - of a cardinal, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, also for allegations of having sexually abused minors and seminarians.

Now, the fact is that, you know, this is the - in terms of - the pope has been very good on this. But you know, there's been still many reactions - resistance within the Vatican against doing much more. But this was a very, very powerful statement. And even for this topic, for the Vatican, this was a very strong statement.

GREENE: Is there action behind this powerful statement? What is the Vatican doing right now to combat this within the church?

POGGIOLI: Well, nothing in terms of actually implementing real structural reforms to ensure accountability also in cases of cover-ups by bishops. There is strong resistance. Some analysts say that infighting between the pro- and anti-Francis factions is hampering the pope's ability to make reforms. There are still very entrenched conservative factions of prelates in the Vatican not fond of this pope and who want to work very hard to preserve the Catholic Church's culture of secrecy.

GREENE: All right, NPR's senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli in Rome this morning.

Thanks, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, David.

GREENE: All right, I want to turn next now to Dublin, Ireland, to speak to Marie Collins. In 2014, she was appointed to a papal commission looking into sexual abuse. She was the only abuse survivor to serve. But she quit last year, frustrated by what she has said was the reluctance of some in the Vatican to implement recommendations approved by the pope.

Marie Collins, welcome to the program. Thank you for taking the time today.

MARIE COLLINS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So you, I know, have read the Vatican's statement. As my colleague Sylvia Poggioli just said, powerful language - it says victims should know that the pope is on their side. Do you believe that?

COLLINS: I believe he has the right intentions. But unfortunately, he hasn't been forceful enough in following through. I mean, it also says that there should be accountability for abusers and for those who enable them. But we all know there should be. The point is, when will there be?

And when I was on the commission, we recommended an accountability tribunal for bishops. The pope approved this. It went to one of his departments, and they refused to implement it. Now, unfortunately, the pope left it at that. He didn't follow through and ensure it was implemented. So there is no proper - still no proper accountability.

GREENE: You said an accountability commission. Is that right? What would that actually do? A tribunal, you said, I think.

COLLINS: Well, the commission I was on was to advise the pope on what structures he could put in place. And we recommend an accountability tribunal, which would have - any bishop who was negligent or protected an abuser would have to have appeared before that. There would be proper discipline - he might have his title removed, laicized, whatever. But when the pope approved it, it was good. But then it went to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, his civil service. And they would not implement it, so it never happened.

It was one of the reasons I resigned because there was no point in advising things if no action was going to be taken. So he just needs to be stronger. I know he has opposition, but he does need to be stronger if this sort of report we get from Pennsylvania is not to continue or not to get more and more. We see it 'round the world. It's not just one country. It's everywhere, and it needs to stop.

GREENE: Now, the church has pointed out that many of these cases took place before 2002, when the church at least says that they began making reforms in response to all the cover-ups of abuse in Boston. I mean - and I'm certainly not suggesting that there's been any full healing for people who were victims before 2002. But has the culture changed? Is this kind of abuse happening less since the church came out and started making changes?

COLLINS: I believe the culture hasn't changed at all. What has happened in the USA is strong safeguarding procedures were brought in with the Dallas charter in 2002 by the bishops. And it does appear to have been effective in stopping some abuse. The problem is that, in this statement, they credit that new policy with having reduced abuse. But they haven't implemented the same policy in any other country. So why not? If it's working in America, why not put it in place in other countries? And the other thing about that policy is it doesn't cover bishops, and it should do. It should cover everybody within the church. There should be no exclusions.

GREENE: Can I ask you about what we learned in Pennsylvania? I mean, to me, as someone who hasn't followed this so, so closely, it was - part of the shocking thing here was the communication going on among clergy for identifying, even grooming victims. I mean, it's just horrifying. Is that kind of system in place elsewhere in the church? Or was that something that was - may have been more just in Pennsylvania?

COLLINS: It's hard to know. We've had the same sort of inquiries in other countries. We had them here in Ireland. They've been in Australia. And they have shown these sort of horrors in other countries, maybe not exactly the same but the same type of thing going on. And when the superiors - the bishops and superiors found out about it, just moving these men into another parish. Like moving a fox into a henhouse, you know what he's going to do. So you are then responsible for what happens after that and for any more victims that are victimized.

I don't know - is the answer about the exact way it was done by, it would appear, a circle of abusers in Pennsylvania. But it's quite likely. This is the way perpetrators work. And if they get together, they will pass a victim from one to the other. Once they've been groomed and abused, they become much more vulnerable to being abused by somebody else. It's horrific. It is dreadful. But unfortunately, for a survivor like myself who's been 20 years following these things, it's not a shock. It's not a surprise because I've seen it come out in country after country.

And the fact that the Vatican is still not getting on top of it, still not doing anything about it, allowing these bishops and church leaders who know what's going on and ignore it or protect the abusers - allowing them just to resign and walk away is totally wrong. There's a big difference between resigning and being removed from your post and publicly named as somebody who has done criminal acts basically - because if you protect a criminal, you are a criminal yourself.

GREENE: Marie Collins is a former member of the Pontifical Commission on the Protection of Minors, an advisory board to the pope. But she resigned from that group.

Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

COLLINS: Not at all. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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