By Catherine Hornby
ROME (Reuters) - An Irish victim of clerical abuse said Tuesday that Catholic Church guidelines on how to root out pedophile priests and protect children needed to be backed up by penalties for bishops who fail to implement them.
Speaking at a major conference in Rome on the sex abuse crisis, Marie Collins said rules without sanctions were too easily ignored and cases were often swept under the carpet, allowing pedophiles to carry on molesting children.
"I would hope that internally there could be some ecclesiastical penalty for a bishop who may not follow the guidelines," the 65-year-old campaigner for abuse survivors told reporters during the conference.
"You obviously have civil law as well, but I am talking more on the church side."
The Vatican sent a letter to bishops last year telling them that they must make it a global priority to tackle the sexual abuse of children by priests and every diocese must draw up its own guidelines in line with local criminal law.
The four-day meeting this week has brought together more than 200 people to discuss how the worldwide Church can become more aware of the problem, make a commitment to victims and prevent future cases.
Collins, the only victim attending the conference, spoke in detail in front of bishops and religious leaders about the abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest when she was thirteen years old and how it damaged the rest of her life.
"The fact that my abuser was a priest added to the great confusion in my mind," she told them. "Those fingers that would abuse my body the night before were the next morning holding and offering me the sacred host."
She said when she tried to warn church leaders about the priest she was ignored on several occasions despite existing church rules on child safety, and he went on to molest others.
"These men can abuse for their whole lifetime leaving behind them a trail of destroyed lives," she said.
"Coming from a country where guidelines are ignored, I am conscious that as well as having them written down you must have some way of making sure they are implemented."