A Victim in Search of Healing

Speaker at Conference on Clergy Sex Abuse Shares Her Hopes for the Church

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, FEB. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Amid the movements of change to prevent the abuse of minors at the hands of clergy, it is imperative to turn to the victims, for it is their witness that reveals what is truly at stake. 

The international symposium Toward Healing and Renewal, which is being held this week at the Pontifical Gregorian University, seeks to lay the groundwork for initiatives whereby the pastoral needs of victims are met, and future abuse cases are prevented.

Marie Collins, who was abused by a hospital chaplain when she was just 13 years old, is one of the key speakers at the symposium. She spoke with ZENIT about the suffering she has endured over the decades since being abused, and her hope that this symposium will bring about real change.

ZENIT: You have spoken about the difficulties you have had with the Church as a result of the way in which members of the clergy handled your case after reporting it. How have you been able to find healing, in spite of the deep disappointments that you have suffered from these Church officials?

Collins: I think, in many ways, I haven't found healing in the Church; I've found healing in my faith in God. I haven't lost my faith in God; I have lost my faith in the institution, and the men who run the institution. I'm trying to remain a Catholic, and I'm living on the hope that they will come to the realization of what they did, and what they must do. I don't know if I will remain forever a Catholic. I'm sort of half and half, I'm in and out, and I know that's something you cannot be. But, I want to be a Catholic; it's what I've always been all my life, and I think what's kept me going is my belief in God, and my belief in Christ's message. I don't want to belong to any other Church, but I have a lot of problems with the men, I suppose, who are running Christ's Church. You know what I'm trying to say? I'm not a theologian; there are just so many good priests that I've dealt with, and I've worked with, and I'm just hoping we're getting to the point now where things might change. The Church works very slowly, so I hope it will begin to get it right.

ZENIT: What are some of the difficulties that a victim may still experience in coming forward? 

Collins: There is a great difficulty in trust. If you've been abused by a priest, it is very difficult to kneel to a priest, to confess to a priest. If you have seen an abuser protected by his superior, it's very hard; you don't have the respect and the trust. It's just very difficult. 

I can't speak for all victims, only myself. I just find it very difficult to reconcile the Church I thought I knew in the first 30 or 40 years of my life with the Church I saw when I was trying to bring my abuser to justice. You know, the misdirection, the deception, putting institution before protection of children. It was so immoral and unchristian, and to believe that men within my Church would behave like that, it was a great shock, very devastating. And it's just very hard. The only way you can get over it is to have real, sincere sorrow and accountability from these men, and from the Church. And that's the way, I think, they will get any sort of return from victims, and some sort of spiritual help for people who want it. There is no spiritual help out there specifically (as far as I know) aimed at survivors who want to return to the Church, and I think maybe there should be. 

ZENIT: What are some of the concrete initiatives that you hope to see come from this conference? 

Collins: I hope the initiatives coming out of this conference -- [such as] the e-learning center -- means there will be a resource there for bishops around the world, and for congregations around the world to refer to when they're dealing with these issues. Some countries where they say they don't have the problem, I think they are burying their head in the sand because this problem is everywhere, and if they think they don't have it, it just means it has not come to the fore yet, and it will be their problem in the future. So I'm hoping they will be able to deal with it better than the countries who have dealt with it so far.

And education is the main thing. Education in abuse, what it does to the child, and what it does to the adult, and the damage it does to the family of those around. All that is knowledge [that] helps to prevent abuse. The more knowledge that members of the Church, the leadership, can have from symposiums like this, the safer world we'll have in the future.