Church reluctant to look in the mirror?

A member of a pontifical commission to protect minors says there is little appetite in the Church to find out why its systemic response on the clerical sexual abuse issue was what it was.
Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sexual abuse, spoke to the National Catholic Reporter last month
about the slow pace of reform and the difficulties she has experienced with Vatican bureaucracy.
Ms Collins, who stressed she was speaking in a personal capacity, said that in countries where the Church is
tackling the issue, she detects an attitude of “When will this all be over … when can we go back to being the way
we were?”
She said: “You have to try to get through that and say you can never go back to where you were.”
The NCR interview quoted Ms Collins speaking about places like Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom
and Germany where “the best thing the Church could have done is to have admitted all their mistakes and done some research into why the cover-ups occurred and the systemic response was what it was”.
“I don’t think there is still any appetite at all to look at the ‘whys’,” she added.
NZ Catholic asked National Office for Professional Standards director Bill Kilgallon if there is a need in New Zealand for the research Ms Collins mentioned.
Mr Kilgallon is one of 17 members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, led by United States
Cardinal Sean O’Malley and set up by Pope Francis.
Ms Collins is also a member of this commission.
Mr Kilgallon responded to NZ Catholic’s question saying “there is a significant body of research on sexual abuse
and on institutional responses to abuse”.
“That research is very important as we attempt to understand why people abuse children and what sort of institutional structures allow abuse to thrive.
“It is then possible to develop evidence-based measures to prevent abuse.”
Mr Kilgallon said the UK’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, an inquiry announced by that country’s
Home Secretary and led by New Zealand Judge Lowell Goddard, “has set up an impressive research team whose first
task is to draw together the findings of all the literature and research on this subject”.
“The Royal Commission in Australia has similarly put significant resources into research,” Mr Kilgallon added.
“Both of these will be hugely valuable to the Church as we try to improve our prevention of and response to sexual
“All institutions differ and, in my view, more research is required into the particular circumstances of sexual
abuse in the Catholic Church and the extent to which the absence of effective structures of governance and accountability contribute to this.”
The pontifical commission was scheduled to meet in plenary session on February 5-7, with working groups meeting in Rome from February 1-4.

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Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. catharina mcnamara says

    Recently I’ve been in contact with several people who have experience of clerical abuse, in New Zealand. The general impression is there is little or no response to their concerns when expressed to representatives of the Church. “Send your concerns in an email” doesn’t usually work for victims.

    It needs to be pointed out sexual abuse is often only one possible part of historical or ongoing abuse. Continuing psychological abuse and manipulation of victims and others in the victims’ lives is a real problem and may not have stopped in childhood. Sometimes a victim’s lifestyle is severely criticized, and family members and friends belonging to the Church are encouraged to also criticize and condemn the victim. And if they don’t they are ostracized themselves.

    Yes, this is happening now, across NZ.

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