Sex abuse victim allegedly sidelined by papal panel

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Peter Saunders talks during a news conference in Rome, Italy February 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile.

Peter Saunders talks during a news conference in Rome, Italy February 6, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile.

ROME (RNS) One of the two victims of clerical sexual abuse serving on a Vatican commission set up by Pope Francis has apparently been sidelined.

The Holy See on Saturday (Feb. 6) said Peter Saunders, a British Catholic who was abused by Jesuit priests as teenager, is taking a “leave of absence” from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Its head, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said Saunders had been asked to consider establishing a victim survivor panel to work with the advisory body.

Saunders disputes that he is on leave, and takes issue with the Vatican’s view of his service on the commission. At a press conference in Rome, he said he wanted to reflect on his role on the 17-member panel.


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“I have not left and I will not leave my position on the commission,” he said. “I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will only talk to him about my position.”

Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in Britain, is one of two victims to sit on the advisory body, set up by the pontiff in 2014. The other is Marie Collins, who was raped by a priest as a girl in Ireland.

Saunders said there was a vote of no-confidence in him backed by all but one member of the commission present at the seven-day meeting, which ends Monday (Feb. 8). He said they were unhappy with his outspokenness on pedophilia in the church.

“A number of members of the commission expressed their concern that I don’t tow the line when it comes to keeping my mouth shut,” Saunders said. “I made clear I would never be part of something that was a public relations exercise.”


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One panel member said Saunders had a different understanding of its purpose, arguing that it should set up policies to protect children rather than advocate for individual cases. “We are deeply dedicated to the protection of children,” the member told RNS, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not a public relations exercise.”

It is unclear whether Saunders will show up at Sunday’s meeting. He had invited Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean sex abuse victim, to discuss his case with the panel.

Cruz was abused by convicted pedophile Fernando Karadima, a mentor of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno in Chile, appointed by Francis last year. Barros has denied allegations that he covered up abuse by Karadima and rejected calls for his resignation.

Speaking alongside Saunders, Cruz called the commission a “disgrace.”

“They’re trying to say that child abuse is behind us and now it’s recovery time. It’s in no way the case,” he said, describing the church in the southern hemisphere as “a playground for pedophiles.”

Cruz said he was hoping to deliver letters from clergy and others in Chile to the pope, urging him to remove Barros from his position.

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)

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  • patrick

    “ One of the two victims of clerical sexual abuse….”

    Let us understand what is meant by clerical sexual abuse. The RCC is quick to refer to this criminal behavior as “ inappropriate touching”.

    The following is cut and pasted from a 2003 Grand Jury Report investigating the clerical sexual abuse taking place in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    “ We should begin by making one thing clear. When we say abuse, we don’t just mean “inappropriate touching” (as the Archdiocese often chose to refer to it). We mean rape. Boys who were raped orally, boys who were raped anally, girls who were raped vaginally. “

    The anger of the GJ is palpable.

    http://www.bishop-accountability.org/reports/2005_09_21_Philly_GrandJury/Grand_Jury_Report.pdf

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  • Betty Clermont

    Saunders said. “I made clear I would never be part of something that was a public relations exercise.” On July 1, 2013, the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sent a request to the pope for “detailed information on all cases of child sexual abuse” committed by clergy and religious for the past 15 years and set Nov. 1 as a deadline for a reply. Pope Francis responded to the CRC on Dec. 4 by stating that his government would not disclose that information. He was criticized by the media for his response. The next day, the creation of commission with no authority was announced.
    “RELATED STORY: Pope Francis moves to hold bishops accountable in sex abuse crisis” No bishop has yet been held accountable. In the US, 2 resigned under public pressure, but a reason was never given. They kept all income and honors due bishops.

  • Mark

    Yes Peter may have been very outspoken (which he should be, regarding those who have abused children or failed to protect them), but sacking him as a member of this commission clearly sends the wrong message. It appears our church CONTINUES to prefer secrecy and silence, it appears Church officials wish to CONTROL those who survived clergy sexual abuse, and certainly does not have thick skin for any criticism. I thought it a smart move that such an individual who had been critical and outspoken was appointed to this commission, yet Church leaders have again proven otherwise.
    Peter absolutely should stand his ground and not be morally compromised by those who say different. Remember John the Baptist to was an outspoken critic when those in power wanted to use him. It too cost him his head…but we know today, he was right. We as a church still have not learned this lesson!

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  • Debbo

    3 cheers for Mr. Saunders! Keep it up sir. You are doing the right and courageous thing. The church hierarchy on every level ought to be deeply ashamed, repentant, and absolutely accommodating to every single victim. Instead, they focus on protection of the institution. We need Jesus to come and drive those thieves out of the temple!

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  • drwho13

    “He said they were unhappy with his outspokenness on pedophilia in the church.”

    I bet there unhappy, so you must be doing a good job. Never forget you’re dealing with snakes. Go for the jugular! Good luck and Godspeed Mr. Saunders.