VATICAN CITY — Marie Collins was abused as a child by a priest while she was growing up in Ireland in the 1960s. As an adult, she has long campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims of clerical pedophilia.
On Saturday, Pope Francis named her and seven other people to a new panel to help the Catholic Church combat sexual abuse of minors by clerics.
The formation of a group of experts, initially announced in December, comes just over a month after the United Nations accused the Vatican of putting the church’s reputation before the well-being of children and imposing a “code of silence” among clerics on the issue of sexual abuse.
Francis has called sexual abuse of children “the shame of the Church” and has vowed to continue procedures put in place by his predecessor, Benedict XVI. But he seemed to pay less attention to abuse than to other reforms. Defensive testimony by Vatican officials before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in January set off a wave of criticism that he was not bold enough on the issue.
“Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst her highest priorities,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in a statement.
Lombardi said the group would consider options such as criminal action against offenders, education about child exploitation, best practices to screen priests and a clear definition of civil and clerical duties within the church.
Collins, a founding trustee of the Irish abuse victims support group One in Four, has urged the Vatican to punish bishops who fail to implement church rules on finding pedophile priests and protecting children.
The United States-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) welcomed Collins’s appointment but said the pope still had to “take strong steps right now to protect kids, expose predators, discipline enablers and uncover cover-ups.”
Along with Collins, the three other women and four men on the panel hail from eight countries and also include Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, former Polish prime minister Hanna Suchocka and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a noted British psychiatrist.
O’Malley is a member of the pope’s “kitchen cabinet” of eight cardinals. In 2011, he published an online database of clergy in his Boston archdiocese who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors.
Also on the panel are French child psychiatrist Catherine Bonnet, Italian canon law professor Claudio Papale and two Jesuit priests, Argentine moral theologian Humberto Miguel Yanez and German psychologist Hans Zollner.