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Hear no evil: How culture of resistance may hinder child protection


  • Jesuit Father Stefan Dartmann, rector of the Pontificium Collegium Germanicum et Hungaricum, is pictured in Rome Feb. 8. Father Dartmann said that clergy are "obliged to foresee and act" when it comes to preventing the abuse of children. The collegium is a German-speaking seminary for Catholic priests run by the Jesuits. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)
  • Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a psychologist and academic vice rector at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, attends a news conference at the university in this Feb. 16, 2015, file photo. Father Zollner, who serves on a papal commission for safeguarding minors, said that selecting well-balanced, mature and responsible men for the priesthood is key to avoiding sexual abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When a child-protection advocate resigned from a papal advisory board in early March, she did so because of growing frustration with persistent resistance and a "toxic" sense of superiority from some in the Roman Curia.

A number of church leaders on the front lines promoting child protection policies have also long noted the biggest challenge they face is a cultural one -- an aversion to the unknown, playing it safe rather than speaking up, and denial and defensiveness to protect an institution over a possible victim.

Despite four years of Pope Francis' calls to break down walls erected out of fear and ivory towers built on arrogance, Marie Collins said a kind of enclave mentality could still be found in some corners of the Curia.

While there are many people who are "open and more willing to listen and learn," the Curia and the Vatican tend to be "very much a closed-in system where people are talking to others with the same views and not being challenged at all, and so things appear normal that are not actually normal," said Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sex abuse, who had served on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its inception in 2014.

So when anything from the outside challenges the way things have traditionally been done, "it is almost an instinct to resist it, and that is what's so difficult," she told Catholic News Service after her resignation.

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