Pope Francis Meets Relatives of the Mafia's VictimsThe Vatican recently announced that well-known Irish activist Marie Collins has been added to the new sex abuse commission charged with advising the church on ways to confront and put and end to the sexual abuse of children by church officials. The commission includes seven other members, but Collins will be the only survivor of sexual abuse involved. While I think the commission might be more effective if it included more actual survivors, this is definitely a step in the right direction. According to TheJournal.ie:

“A founder trustee of the Marie Collins Foundation and has campaigned for the protection of children and justice for survivors of clerical sexual abuse. She was a founding member of the Irish depression support group Aware, and founding trustee of the support group for abuse survivors, One in Four (Ireland).”

Collins, now 67, was raped by a priest at age 13 and for decades her abuse was brushed under the table by church officials. Collins was finally able to bring her abuser to justice in 1997. Her appointment to the commission, whose official title is the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, was a complete surprise to her when the Vatican first approached her. According to an interview with The Wall Street Journal:

“it came as quite a surprise…This Pope has been speaking about change but this shows real action. It’s a huge step forward.”

I couldn’t agree more with Collins on this point. It’s one thing to make broad statements about change, but quite another to actually enact change. Former Popes have paid lip service to the concept, but until now little has been done to actually fix anything. So far the commission is made up of four women and four men, and includes both people affiliated with the church and laypeople. The members are:

Dr. Catherine Bonnet (France)
Activist Marie Collins (Ireland)
Professor the Baroness Sheila Hollins (United Kingdom)
Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap (US)
Professor Claudio Papale (Italy)
Her Excellency Hanna Suchocka (Poland)
Reverend Humberto Miguel Yañez, SJ (Argentina)
Reverend Hans Zollner, SJ (Germany)

According to a statement given by the Vatican:

“…the Church has a critical role to play in this field, and looking to the future without forgetting the past. The Commission will take a “multi-pronged” approach to promoting youth protection.”

The commission’s work will include educating both church officials and laypeople about the exploitation of children. They will also be involved in the “discipline of offenders, civil and canonical duties and responsibilities,” and will work to develop more effective practices in the church as a whole.

I personally no longer consider myself a Catholic, but as a former Catholic (with a mostly Catholic family), I think this is a breath of fresh air. Finally someone is doing something positive to stop the exploitation of children by priests and other church officials. I applaud Pope Francis and the Vatican for finally doing the right thing.

(Photo: Getty Images)