What’s Current: Survivor of clerical sex abuse resigns from Vatican’s Commission for Protection of Minors

Marie Collins resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. (Image: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

Marie Collins, who was sexually assaulted by a priest when she was 13-years-old, quit the Vatican task force dedicated to tackling abuse. She was the last remaining experiential member on the commission:

“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.”

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Jess Martin
Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food. In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.

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  • Laurie

    I wonder how long it’s going to take Marie Collins to become an atheist. It took me until my late 30’s to finally give up on religious turned spiritual beliefs. I had long since given up on Catholicism by then but went into new age goddess believing. It was affirming and I loved it but in the end It was also reductive and lost it’s appeal after a decade or so. I now feel as an atheist I have a much better understanding of human behavior and the world of religious beliefs and just how violent the patriarchy is due to them.

    • FierceMild

      Me too. I was a bit younger but in a way I’ll always be a recovering Catholic. The traditions run deep.

  • fxduffy

    “I do not know the answer but it is devastating in 2017 to see that these men still can put other concerns before the safety of children and vulnerable adults.” Marie Collins

    Numbers wise, more children are victims of the Protestant clergy in the U.S. The John Jay report on clergy child abuse found very little difference between Catholic priests, and all other clergy in the U.S. in terms of percentage of abusers (all were around 3%).

    On top of this, there’s an extreme difference between the two when it comes to the use of “vulnerable adults.” The number of ministers who sleep with the wives of their parishioners is astounding (cannot recall the actual figure) while in fact the priest rate for the same hardly registers.

    Which is also true of Catholic nuns… they have a non-registering percentage when it comes to child abuse. (Many ex-nuns and nuns are feminists, several well-known).

    Obviously, I think the Church absolutely has to change, but I also think they are at center stage because 1) they are a single entity and can therefore be sued and be made subject to change 2) because liberals need to prove to the world that celibacy is sick, oppressive, and downright dangerous. And that thus the male sexual institutions of prostitution, free sex, and porn can continue to flourish.

    • FierceMild

      Don’t forget that the Catholic Church (while vile in many ways) is also the only one with active cohesive women’s collectives.

      • fxduffy

        Yes, well put. These might turn out to be the last holdouts of women’s spaces.

        One of the first things Pope Francis ordered was an end to the monitoring of activist, often feminist, nuns in the US.

        Another point here is that the Church in the US has a membership which is far more working class or poor than any other religion here, which also accounts for the easy targeting mentioned in my post above. (The KKK went after Catholics too) (And many Italians were shipped to detention camps in WW II)

        • FierceMild

          Yes. Irish as well and now also immigrants from Latin America.

  • calabasa

    Speaking of male violence, I have a question for the women of Feminist Current. If you could help me, I would appreciate it. Please?

    I had resolved to try to find some joy and beauty and move on with my life (my trans roommate picked a fight with me right as I am moving out, but that’s another issue entirely–I simply dared suggest to her as a 6’2, tattooed, male-bodied person that she ask the organizers of the all-women’s night of a nude sauna before going, and this led to a conversation in which I tried to be reasonable that was “deeply traumatizing” for her, apparently; I understand she felt it challenged her identity. The way she has reconciled this without having to question her beliefs or brand me a “TERF” is to decide I am deeply traumatized by male violence and therefore none of my stances on the issue have any merit whatsoever, but I don’t care; I countered her “you have been through a lot you don’t deserve, and I hope you heal” with “you too–that’s all any of us wants, right, is healing in this world?” I.e., you are the suggestible person who has been sucked into a cult, not me, but that’s fine, think what you want so we can part as friends; we have grown close and I do care about her). THAT drama aside–and I’m glad I’m moving, because I need to live somewhere/with someone stable–the same day my psychiatrist (who is medicating me for PTSD) pressured me to report my ex’s second rape, last June, saying “he got away with it,” “he’ll do it again,” “they always do.”

    Coincidentally, the same night my ex-boyfriend/abuser’s ex-wife (whom I always wondered about) found me and got in touch with me. She revealed to me that he serially cheated on her, sponged off of her, racked up $40,000 worth of credit card debt on her credit cards trying to be a rock star called “Robo the Iron Surgeon” during a manic phase (debt which she was stuck with), raped her too (she reported him and he was arrested on DV charges and sent to a psych ward for three months), hit her at various points in their relationship, broke into her house and went through her things when she tried to leave him, and ripped the steering wheel off her car to prevent her from driving away (there are arrest reports for these incidents too, but they are expunged from the record after a certain amount of time; I couldn’t see them on his record, anyway, but his ex-girlfriend could–the girlfriend after the wife–and she told me he told her some story to explain them away, i.e. that the ex-wife was lying and it was a misunderstanding, etc). At one point she was fired from her job because they were worried he would come in to hurt her or others, and didn’t want to be held liable.

    He and his ex-wife met when they were kids (17 and 19) and it took her 14 years to get away from him (as sometimes he could be stable, and things would seem all right, and he’s good at playing the “wounded little boy” and has a good side, and she felt “very connected” to him). After they moved to another town for her PhD, she told him “get off my couch or get out of my house,” as he wasn’t working or doing anything (depressed), so he enrolled in a master’s program for writing and literature at the same university, where he won a playwright’s contest and promptly began having affairs with the women of the program. He wrote thinly-disguised stories about her (about a man having affairs behind his wife’s back, and he and his mistress mocking her). Keep in mind they’d had a son together at one point (who died), and she knew he was “using the sob story of their dead son” to seduce women (he did this with me, too; although he played up the melodrama of how “haunted” he was, I truly think he really never has gotten over it, as his ex-wife also said; abusers are people too, and people can have many dimensions). The woman he ended up leaving her for (“in retrospect, best thing that ever happened to me,” the ex-wife said) is the ex-girlfriend I know from the same town, who he ended up screwing over so badly and hurting after he left her, years later (seducing her best friend and blocking her out of her friend group).

    The ex-wife contacted me because they are still Facebook friends (she said she thought it childish to block him) and she is concerned he is now teaching high school, and posting pictures high schools girls have drawn for him, including Valentine’s hearts. She is concerned he will rape a high school girl (because he would love the kind of adoration and attention he would get from an impressionable girl of that age). She, too, pressured me to report the second rape, to turn over his emails in which he more or less admits to raping me in June (and outright admits to sexually abusing me during our brief relationship), and to tell the D.A. she would be happy to testify.

    I was FINALLY starting to feel much better and stronger. He called me not long ago and left a sad-sounding voicemail, which made me snap at someone, run into another room and cry, and then upon listening to it panic until I realized (yet again) that he was fine and this was his way of trying to sucker me back in (he knows “charm” won’t work on me anymore, but playing to my sympathy will; he knows I still worry about him, and his mental health after what he did to me). I had resolved to block his number (which I had forgotten to do; he hadn’t called me in a while) and forget him.

    Although validating to hear I wasn’t the first woman he’d abused (and I’m sorry for his ex-wife), and that he *is* extremely good at driving women out of their minds (and also as mentally ill as I thought he was–not that that’s an excuse), this was extremely upsetting to me on a number of levels. It reminded me, and I had nightmares again. Also, I was pressured by two people in the same day to report him for the second rape, and now I know he is more violent and more deranged than I ever thought before.

    It’s unlikely they would move to prosecute, and if they did, I would be ripped apart on the witness stand. It’s unlikely he would be convicted. They might, however, question him if I filed a second report, which would put me on his radar again. I am moving downtown, to an area of town he frequents, and I’m highly visible on my bike; I want him to leave me alone.

    I am concerned he is a serial rapist who trolls the bars looking for drunk women to rape. I am concerned he looks for vulnerable women on Tinder and other dating sites (I was extremely vulnerable when I met him), women with mental health issues or past sexual abuse; I am concerned that he uses a mixture of charm/manipulation/pressure/alcohol/coercion/outright force all else failing to take advantage of or rape women. I am also concerned of what he might do to a vulnerable or impressionable young girl.

    However, I must protect MY mental health and physical safety, right? It is WRONG for my psychiatrist to pressure me to report him, isn’t it? (My therapist said no one should pressure me to report him, and it’s up to me, and not my responsibility if he rapes other women and girls). I think it would be BAD for me. Already, this has been upsetting for me; I had started to leave this behind, and I have been very upset again these past few days. I had been growing stronger, working, writing, reading, seeing my friends, moving out; this has derailed me again temporarily. I do not know if I could go through a trial. Filing a second report about what he did to me and our subsequent contact would be humiliating, even with an advocate present, and I would be afraid of what he would do if they questioned him.

    I should take care of myself, right? It’s not my fault our justice system is fucked up, that male violence goes largely excused, that I have little chance in court, that rapists get away with it; I should put myself first, shouldn’t I? I should not be pressured to report him at the risk of my own mental health and safety, should I?

    I would feel TERRIBLE guilt if I found he raped another vulnerable woman, or a young girl. I don’t know what to do (if I should report it, or not, and report my concerns about him teaching high school).

    Does anyone have any input/advice? I am open to advice. My gut tells me to move on, ignore him, make sure he doesn’t find out where I live, go no-contact, don’t let him talk to me, don’t make trouble for him, fall off his radar, get on with my life and try to put it behind me as best I can.

    His ex-wife told me he “looked terrible,” and he didn’t when we met a year ago. I alternately hounded him for what he did to me and worried about him (all year long) in email; I was sooo traumatized, so outraged, so disbelieving–I would not let him forget it. It’s not that I want him to look (or feel) terrible (although he never much cared about the impact of what he did on me), but according to Lundy Bancroft, an expert on the abuser mentality, the one thing he ever saw work to change an abuser–to make him decide to change–was shame. I am hoping–hoping against hope–that my ex-boyfriend/abuser realizes that I did, in fact, love him (him, and not his accomplishments; I didn’t care about that), that I was kind to him, that I opened up to him about things that have happened to me, and that he raped me, which was the most terrible thing, apart from kill me, he could have done. I am hoping he is no longer deflecting blame and that he realizes both how self-destructive it was from the standpoint of having irrevocably hurt the person he claimed to love/who loved him (and ruined all chances at a relationship), and how much he hurt me (and that I am–he knows–a kindhearted person, and a sweet person, in spite of any anger I have for what he or other men have done; I have consistently worried about him and he has consistently preyed on that worry to try to get me to see him again; I think he would take back what he did if he could, but I don’t know if it’s because of regret, or remorse; I don’t want to see him suffer–I know some here would think I should, but I don’t, because I don’t want to wish suffering on anyone, and I feel guilty for lashing out at him at times in email, though I was also quite kind to him–but if he feels shame for what he did to me–I know he has a conscience, and I think he does–maybe he will change). Maybe he can change and be a happier person and not rape any more women or girls. That’s all I can hope.

    Isn’t that enough?

    As an addendum to this, his ex-wife is now happily partnered with two daughters and lives in another state, and his ex-girlfriend is getting married and says she is a “much happier person now,” though she went through almost a year of extreme emotional pain after how he treated her when they broke up (when he broke up with her). I am not in any way endorsing marriage or having children (or not) as an antidote to anything, but I *would* like to have the same shot at happiness, and the same chance at having a healthy relationship someday, should I want one. Am I selfish for not wanting to report this and reopen these still-healing wounds, in spite of what he may do? Isn’t it enough that I made him feel bad about it (making myself feel bad in the process), isn’t it enough for me to move on and heal myself–don’t I deserve that?

    • Yisheng Qingwa

      REPORT IT.

    • FierceMild

      I want to help you, but I feel completely unqualified. I think rape needs to be reported, but I also don’t think I have a right to advise you to do that when it may effect your emotional and
      mental well-being.

      • calabasa

        Thank you, FierceMild. I am also more scared of him now than I was before (before I thought he just liked to mess with your mind/get you alone to abuse you; now I know he has been violent in other ways–hitting his ex-wife–that he broke into her house, ripped the steering wheel off her car, etc). I think at this point he will likely leave me alone. I think he feels sad that he forever alienated me (though I doubt he has much empathy for me; I think he just misses me/hasn’t found a replacement). I think he must feel SOME guilt (I have seen evidence of a conscience–his feeling guilty over something), so at this point I think he will leave me alone. If I filed a second report, I am afraid that might not be the case (who knows; narcissistic injury/rage and all that). I decided a good compromise might be to contact the detective on my case and file a second report if they won’t question him (if I turn over his emails and his wife’s testimony). That way it would be on the record if a third woman ever comes forward, and I were called to testify; his emails post-June could then be entered into the record (I don’t think any of that would be admissible without the second report). If they say they have to question him, I will not file. I want to let this go, and I don’t want to stir up trouble. I hope he feels bad enough about what he did to me that he won’t do it again to another woman (if only because nothing ruins a relationship like rape, and maybe he’ll selfishly realize it’s a mistake to completely alienate people he wants to have in his life that way). I know that doesn’t do much for women he does not want a relationship with (i.e., women he picks up online or in bars), but I hope he will ALSO realize that there are two women who will testify if another woman comes forward, and selfishly decide it’s not worth the risk.

        It’s very strange, his disorder (almost like interacting with someone from an alien species). I know that according to some experts, abusers are usually not mentally ill, but I’m not sure I agree with that, as most of them seem to have most or all of the characteristics of NPD (although some people characterize this as less of a mental illness than a moral illness; it’s a character disorder).

        When he says things like “I care for you,” I am not sure if this means “I still want to have sex with you,” “I want to prey on you,” “I want to mess with your mind some more,” or if he truly believes that what he is doing is caring (I mean, even were we to go out and have a good time together, and have good, consensual sex–what people who know call a “watered-down version” of the love bomb phase at the beginning, when someone tries to “hoover” you–that is, unashamedly contacts you–usually for sex–in spite of whatever he may have done, because supply is low or he is simply bored of his new partner or still wants to string you along–even if this were to happen–a seemingly loving encounter–a normal, empathetic person would know it was wrong to try to have a relationship with your victim, to have sex again with someone you have severely hurt by abusing them; how confusing it would be to act loving toward them again; a person with empathy would leave them alone, but then again, a person with normal empathy would be unlikely to abuse or rape in the first place).

        Does he think this is caring? In his mind, does abuse=love? Does power or control over someone=love? Does he truly believe he “cares for me” by wanting to resume any sort of relationship with me after what he has done (and he knows perfectly well how severely I have been hurt by it)? Or does he know this is *not* caring, but he’s just selfish?

        This is a perplexing question. Does he really think he means it when he says things like, “I care for you,” “I wanted to move forward with this in a healthy way,” “I want to make it up to you as best I can” (as if you can really “make it up” to someone for raping them…). Does he then, when I fall for this and go see him, just act like himself (which is to say, were we to fall back into a relationship, alternately loving, sweet, kind, and affectionate, and distant, objectifying, sexually abusive, jealous, mean, blaming, lying gaslighting, etc). Can he help it? Does he know he does it, but pretend that he doesn’t (or simply can’t operate in any other way)? Does he know he is toying with people, playing a game with them to feel powerful, or does he think he truly cares about and misses them (and just can’t help then being cruel and lashing out like a child when he feels hurt)? Can it be both at the same time?

        I don’t know the answers to these questions. I have a feeling he knows (I’ve seen the “slip of the mask,” so to speak). I have a feeling he also hates himself, and maybe that’s why he has to hate/distrust anyone who loves him (or cannot be vulnerable and risk heartache). I have a feeling that he DOES love, but he breaks whatever he loves. I don’t think he’s a psychopath (when you have no conscience and no empathy, all that’s left is the desire to win; all that’s left is beating boredom–it must be very alienating). Narcissistic personality disorder strikes me as very sad, but also very dangerous for people to be involved with; I can’t image such moral and emotional dysregulation, all the time, with everyone (wanting to be a different person, manipulating people, both wanting to and not)…it seems horrible and exhausting.

        In any case, I know that’s neither here nor there in terms of him being a danger to others. I DO think he is someone with a predilection for a character disorder that likely developed because of comorbid bipolar disorder, early childhood experiences, and masculinity (power/powerless theory of masculinity–it applies perfectly to him). I think a lot of male violence is about this focus on “winning” and the stunting of emotions (because of masculine disdain for them); developing “EQ”–emotional intelligence and maturity–is SO important for how you treat others. Many psychologists have described the character disorder of NPD as being stuck emotionally at a very young age (when the child decided his true self was not good enough, and he needed to be someone else); I think this also has to do with masculinity and the way it raises men to feel both entitled and bad about themselves if they don’t measure up (coddling mixed with harshness or unreasonable expectations, another reason a person can develop this disorder, because of this kind of parenting–likely along with a genetic susceptibility). A writer on the web made a very convincing case that people with NPD have all the characteristics of a healthy six-year-old: http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/six.html, which is worth checking out (the bullet points at the bottom, though the short article is also interesting), a developmental stage most people have moved on from by age eight or nine, at the latest (some people develop earlier or later, of course; the stages of childhood development are fascinating–and it’s why early parenting, and social messages, are so crucial for the development of good neurochemistry and a healthy person). Obviously our culture doesn’t help anyone in this regard (how to solve world problems? Hmm)… As the author of the article points out, narcissists, like six-year-olds, are lovable at least half the time, which is probably why their victims stay with them so long (as well as the mothering instinct toward that vulnerable side); unfortunately, grown men stunted emotionally at age six don’t just hit their sister with a child’s strength when she hurts their feelings, or harmlessly try on different identities, or impishly see what they can get away with (having cognitive vs. affective empathy); grown men hit their partners hard, or rape them when they feel rejected, or fly into a rage when they feel they are not receiving enough attention (or otherwise act out–cheating, lying–for attention), or even kill their partners because they don’t distinguish between self and others (and feel that they “belong” to them).

        None of this is to excuse abusers. It’s to say that they are people too–sad, monstrous, emotionally stunted people, doomed to crave love and drive away those who could give it to them (and doomed to crave love for the wrong reasons–to receive praise for their accomplishments, rather than love for who they are, imperfect as they are); doomed to live out a fantasy life that begins to crumble as they get older; doomed to forever-selfishness that hurts everyone around them, sometimes in extreme ways. I really think a *lot* of male violence can be explained by narcissistic injury. The patriarchy keeps a lot of men stunted emotionally (and they learn this from the bad model of their parents, if their father is dominating and mother submissive and doting–the traditional patriarchal model); and the cycle keeps on going, fueling rape, domestic violence, murder, economic and environmental plunder and pillage, war, genocide, mass extinction…the list goes on (it makes my heart break just how wrong we all got it, and how unhappy the myth of power has made us).

        Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say. I’m tired. 🙂 Thanks, FierceMild.

  • Tobysgirl

    I, too, am sick and tired of the constant litany of male violence brought to us by the news with absolutely no thought given to who is being violent. I had to turn the channel the other day because I couldn’t listen to one more indictment of some creep using child pornography or molesting children.
    What could we do in a concerted fashion that might bring up an occasional discussion? If I write one letter to a television station or newspaper, I’m just one cranky old woman who doesn’t understand that “women can be violent, too.” I realize there is no discussion of anything in the mainstream media other than celebrity outfits, so it’s an uphill battle.

    • FierceMild

      There is Countinf Dead Women, and there are several Latin American groups actively addressing femicide. But as for most other contexts, you’re right, one letter they ignore. Perhaps we could start a letter writing campaign?