Vatican apologies not enough: Abuse victim
Vatican City - Irish anti-abuse campaigner Marie Collins told Catholic leaders at a Vatican summit on Tuesday that the Church had to be held accountable for destroying the lives of victims of paedophile priests.
"Apologising for the actions of the abusive priests is not enough," Collins told bishops and cardinals from around the world gathered at the Vatican's Gregorian University for an unprecedented conference on child abuse.
"There must be acknowledgement and accountability for the harm and destruction that has been done to the life of victims and their families by the often deliberate cover up and mishandling of cases by their superiors."
Collins recounted in horrifying detail her abuse by a Dublin priest when she was 13. "Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before were the next morning holding and offering me the sacred host," said the 64-year-old.
Her denunciations were long ignored by the Catholic hierarchy and she has suffered from depression for most of her life as a result, but Collins has since become a leading voice in Ireland pushing for justice for victims.
"I feel the best of my life began 15 years ago when my abuser was brought to justice. During those years I have worked with my diocese and the wider Catholic Church in Ireland to improve their child protection policies.
"My life is no longer a wasteland. I feel it has meaning," she said.
Sheila Hollins, a British psychotherapist, told the meeting: "Not being believed or, even worse, being blamed for the abuse, adds hugely to the emotional and mental suffering caused by sexual abuse."
"The failure of an abuser to admit his guilt, or of his superiors to take appropriate action, further compounds the damage," she said.
The four-day conference began on Monday with a message from Pope Benedict XVI urging "profound renewal of the Church at every level" and calling for "a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support".
The meeting brings together 100 representatives of national bishops' conferences, the leaders of 33 religious orders and the Vatican's top anti-abuse prosecutor Charles Scicluna as well as experts on the issue.
Collins was the only abuse victim to have been invited and victims' groups have dismissed the conference as "a public relations exercise". She said she struggled with the decision to attend after years of conflict with the Church.
She and other conference participants will take part in a special penitential church service later on Tuesday in which the leaders of seven religious orders that had abusers in their midst will plead for forgiveness.
US archbishops Stephen Rossetti was also due to address the conference on Tuesday with a speech entitled "Learning from Our Mistakes".
Conference organisers said the speech would "recommend ways to more effectively respond to those with allegations and to manage known offenders".
The Catholic Church has been rocked over the past decade by thousands of abuse scandals in Europe and the United States, which have shown up systematic cover-ups of known abusers by the Catholic hierarchy going back decades.
The Vatican summit aims to encourage the Church in countries where many abuses remain hidden, such as in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to learn from countries like the United States where more stringent practices are in place.
The Vatican has requested that national bishops' conferences submit strict guidelines by May on how they plan to root out child abuse but campaigners warn that this is not enough as there is no power of enforcement.
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catholic Church's top enforcement body, said his office had received 4 000 denunciations of child abuse over the past 10 years.