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Pope Francis Issues New Rules On Reporting Sexual Abuse


Pope Francis unveiled some new rules yesterday. Priests and nuns will have to report sexual abuse and cover-ups to church authorities. Now, here in the United States, some states obligate clergy members to report abuse allegations to civil authorities, but that's not true everywhere.

MARIE COLLINS: There shouldn't be one level of safety for one child and a different level for others. Your safety shouldn't depend on what part of the world you live in.

KING: That's Marie Collins. As a child, she was abused by a priest. Two years ago, she resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. She said the Vatican was resistant to change. She welcomes some of the new guidelines, like protection for whistleblowers, but on the whole, she's disappointed. She talked to our co-host Rachel Martin.

COLLINS: I don't think it's something to be jumping up and down and boasting about because it's something that should have been there before now. I mean, the fact that it's just coming out now that reports have to be made if there is an accusation and that it has to go through all the chains and through the church and be investigated - I mean, this is new - is staggering. But at least we now have it down in black and white, and nobody within the church can be left in any doubt that if they hear of abuse or told of abuse, that they must speak about it internally.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Well, that leads us to what are the shortcomings here. I mean, as you point out, this is internal reporting. It does not obligate anyone to report issues of sexual abuse or harassment to law enforcement, correct?

COLLINS: Yes, and it doesn't change anything, as far as reporting to civil authorities. It is not even a word of encouragement to go and report to the state authorities. Yes, the whole document about how important reporting is internally, but nothing about externally - and that is where, to me, the document completely falls down.

MARTIN: This is about trauma that can follow people for a lifetime.

COLLINS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Can you just remind us the extent of your abuse?

COLLINS: Well, I was sexually assaulted by a chaplain in a hospital where I was a patient - a child patient. And by the time I was 17, I was on medication for anxiety. And for the next 30 years, I spent in and out of hospital with severe depressions, anxiety. I spent four years in my own home, not able to leave, with agoraphobia and panic attacks.

My abuser went to jail, and I had two years of therapy. And since then, I haven't had any of those problems - depression, anxiety, panic attacks. But I lost 30 years of my life. I couldn't work. I couldn't lead a normal life. I was just sort of getting through. And to have to tell somebody who is in the church and who are supposed to be religious or spiritual people that this is important, and if you know it's happening, you should tell somebody - it's just appalling, really, that it has to be set out like this in writing. But it's better that it is, if that is the case. But keeping it all within the church has been the problem all along, and this is just really continuing that.

MARTIN: Pope Francis has talked a lot - he says to many what appear to be the right words when confronting the issue of sex abuse within the church. But do you believe he has acted strongly enough?

COLLINS: He has said all the right things, but I don't think he has acted strongly enough. For example, what many people are calling for is zero tolerance. And real zero tolerance means that if a member of the clergy is found to have abused a child, that they will be expelled from the church. Now, he promised that some time ago, and it's not happened.

I mean, Pope John Paul in 2002, in America - he said to the bishops and the cardinals that there was no place in the church for anyone who would harm a child. That's 17 years ago, and yet, abusers are still being retained within the church and allowed to remain priests. It shows a lack of seeing the seriousness of their actions and the tremendous damage they have done by allowing them to remain.

MARTIN: Marie Collins, thank you so much for talking with us.

COLLINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.