In April 2015, four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors handed a letter to Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who was then the head of the commission. The letter was written by a victim of clergy sexual abuse, detailing the abuse that Chilean Father Fernando Karadima inflicted, and claiming that this abuse was witnessed by other members of the clergy, including Bishop Juan Barros.
Our guest today, Marie Collins, personally handed the letter to O'Malley.
O'Malley has said that he delivered this letter to the pope. This contradicts claims that Pope Francis made on his recent trip to Chile, saying that victims who have accused Bishop Juan Barros of knowing of Karadima's abuse were spreading "calumny" against him.
You can read Juan Carlos Cruz's letter in Spanish here.
Meghna Chakrabarti: What did the cardinal say when you gave him the letter?
Marie Collins: He received the letter, we explained who it was from because we had gone with the intention of discussing the appointment of Bishop Barros and our concerns about it. Cardinal O’Malley said he would he would hand it to the pope. And he told us later that he had done so. And that he had discussed the concerns with the pope himself.
So the cardinal knew what the contents of the letter was and who it was from?
He wouldn't have known the details at that point because the letter was sealed. And it was for the Holy Father. But I can tell you that it is the latter that has been published, it was in Spanish. It was eight pages long and that was the letter. Obviously we discussed the whole issue with Cardinal O'Malley. Because although the four of us were on the commission, we were not there representing the commission because the commission itself cannot intervene in the cases, and that might have been seen that way. We were there basically as four individuals who were just very concerned that someone was being appointed a bishop who would appear had not good judgment about what was abuse, what was not abuse, and what should be stopped.
So O'Malley later told you that not only did he personally hand the letter to the pope but that they discussed it. I mean did he tell you what they discussed?
No simply that he had to — he had discussed the concerns that we had brought to him. So he was meeting the pope within the next, maybe the next day or within a couple of days. That's why he was in Rome so he would have been meeting the pope personally.
What was your reaction then when you heard that just last month following his visit to South America, that Pope Francis on the plane home when asked by this Associated Press reporter said, ‘You in all goodwill tell me that there are victims but I haven't seen any because they haven't come forward?’
I've got to say I was very shocked. I didn't understand, I didn't know, I was quite mystified why the Holy Father would say that. I was quite shocked because obviously I was aware that this letter had been given to him. And I thought there was no way he couldn't know about these survivors. Not only that, but at least three of these men have given testimony publicly. So this is nothing new, it's not suddenly come out of the blue. These survivors have been speaking about this for years.
Now you told the AP that this was the only time as far as you know that members of the commission tried to speak to the pope or give the pope information about a specific case. Why this case?
Well in this case, it has to do with the protection of children. It had to do with somebody being appointed a bishop whose judgment was suspect — that someone was appointed who may have seen abuse but not recognized it as abuse. And so responsible for the protection of children in his diocese may not recognize abuse as abuse and therefore the children will not be protected as they should be. And that's the main reason that we went to speak.
Right. And this is this is possibly the most important and searing part of the letter, right? Because Juan-Carlos Cruz writes to the pope that Barros was in the room, directly, he says directly witnessing some of the abuse. I mean in English translation here. Cruz writes to the pope that ‘more difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros would watch when Karadima would would touch us and abuse us. Juan Barros was a witness to all of this innumerable times not just with me but with others as well.’ I mean presuming the pope read this letter it's still it's hard to understand why later on again, just last month, Pope Francis asserted, insisted that Barros is innocent and that there was no evidence against him.
This is what is so hard to understand.
So just last week the Vatican announced that it's sending its most respected sex crimes investigator to Chile to take testimony from Juan-Carlos Cruz and others about Bishop Barros. I mean this happened just last week. Do you think that this is evidence that Pope Francis has realized that maybe he's made a mistake?
Yes, I believe it is. But I believe it's very belated. I think this has been an issue for three years, not just with the survivors but with priests and people in that diocese and they haven't been heard and they haven't been listened to. You know if you have Chilean cardinals who are very negative towards the survivors and don't want them believed because they think it will damage the Chilean Church, it is probable that they may have been speaking to the pope and he may have taken their — and revised. I have no idea. I have no idea and I don't claim to know.
Well you know there's this Vatican statement about the fact that the Vatican has decided to send Bishop Scicluna, as you said, the church's respected sex crimes expert to Chile. The statement says that he's going to listen to those who have expressed the desire to provide elements about the case of Bishop Barros. The Vatican says new information has emerged. I mean is it new information or is it this report from the Associated Press?
I do not know what new information could arise.
Now if I may go back just for a second. This photograph of you handing the letter to Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Why was the picture taken?
It was my idea at the time, was simply that I had got this letter from Juan Carlos and I had said we'd pass it on to Cardinal O'Malley while we were there and ask him to give it to the pope. And I just thought at the time that we’d get picture of this so I can send it back and let him know that his letter is going to the pope when we have handed it over.
And when Juan Carlos received the picture and he knew that you had given his letter to O'Malley I mean what did he, what did he tell you?
Well, he was pleased to know that it would get to the pope. He was positive and pleased and thought that there would be some chance that survivors would be heard. Unfortunately, as we heard later, there had been no response from the pope. And he was very disappointed.
Now Marie, about the lack of response I mean it's, maybe ironic isn't the word, but it seems rather tragic for so many reasons not the least of which is when you resigned from the Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2017, one of the reasons why you resigned is that the Vatican was failing to comply with a basic recommendation the commission had put forward that all correspondence from victims and survivors should receive a response.
That was a recommendation that the pope himself, in fact. He gave an instruction to the various departments that they should respond to survivors. So it is extraordinary that then in this case, where he then received something himself from a survivor, he did not respond. That hadn't passed me by. I had, it is very ironic. It is but it is sad.
Well we should say that you are a survivor of clergy sexual abuse yourself and when you resigned from the commission in 2017 you said, ‘I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters.’ Do you feel still feel the same way?
I do feel the same way and I'm very sad to see the same thing happening with Holy Father and that he has said all the right things and expressed all the right views on abuse and the harm and the hurt. But in this case at least, it would seem his actions have not matched the words. And that is sad.
Now we of course have requested a comment or a statement from the Boston Archdiocese and Cardinal Sean O'Malley. They are referring all requests to the Vatican. I wonder is there any possibility, Marie, that in the past several days have you, have you spoken or had any contact with Cardinal O'Malley?
No, none, none whatsoever. No. I think there’s very little Cardinal O'Malley can say, I think he has done — as far as I am concerned --I think he has done all the right things. I think he has made every effort he could. And I don't think O'Malley can do any more. I mean, he put out a statement after the Pope said what he did on the plane, and he came out very strong, pointing out the pain to the survivors. Really the explanations that are needed now must come from the Vatican.
And to your point about what Cardinal O’Malley said after the pope had made his comments in Chile about not having evidence against Barros, Cardinal O'Malley said, ‘Words that convey the message if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed. Abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity.’
That's the shocking part of it. Because if someone has been violated and abused and they want to go and report it. Seeing those words, they will think, how am I going to prove this? You know they won't believe me. And that is dreadful because we have been trying so much to empower victims to come forward and telling them they will be believed. And the Church has been putting out this message that you will be believed. And then the highest church man that we have is saying that he doesn't believe without evidence and the truth. And it's, it's just a hugely damaging and it's a huge step backwards.
Marie, has Pope Francis lost his credibility to lead the church through this crisis?
It’s not for me to say. I mean, all I can say is that people who have a lot of hope in this pope, and I'm talking about just ordinary Catholics that I know in my own parish, would find it very difficult now and cannot understand and cannot believe that this particular pope has said the things you said in the last few weeks. And it has definitely undermined credibility, trust and hope.
This segment aired on February 6, 2018.