As all politicians know, resignations have power. They can dislodge leaders and shake governments. Geoffrey Howe’s devastating resignation speech in 1990, which precipitated the downfall of Margaret Thatcher, is one memorable example.

The resignation of abuse survivor Marie Collins from a Vatican commission set up by Pope Francis was not designed to topple the Holy Father but to challenge the status quo. And it seems to have worked: her comments are still being discussed in Rome.

When the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors met for its plenary assembly last week, discussions focused on two issues that led to Collins’s resignation: the Vatican refusing to always acknowledge letters from abuse victims and its reluctance to promote guidelines on handling abuse claims for bishops’ conferences around the world.

Will Marie Collins’s decision to resign help to bring about the reforms she is calling for? It’s still too early to tell. The debate following Collins’s departure shows just how much the abuse commission relies on the co-operation of other Vatican departments, particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF).

The department’s head, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, waded into a row with Collins when, during an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he insisted that the CDF had cooperated with the abuse commission – even though it reportedly took the department more than a year to send a representative to meet members.

But the most influential factor in Collins’s departure was the CDF’s refusal to reply to letters from abuse victims. The department argued that this was firmly within the remit of a victim’s local bishop, and that interference from the Vatican would be disrespectful.

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