February 8, 2016

Vatican sex abuse commission ends turbulent meeting, cites progress

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The Vatican on July 9, 2014 announced reforms to its bank, including tapping Jean-Baptiste de Franssu as its new president.

Creative Commons image by @Doug88888

The Vatican on July 9, 2014 announced reforms to its bank, including tapping Jean-Baptiste de Franssu as its new president.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican commission on clerical sexual abuse has wrapped up a turbulent week-long meeting during which one of two victims on the panel was effectively ousted and Chilean Catholics upset that Pope Francis has not sacked a controversial bishop delivered protest letters.

But a statement released on Monday (Feb. 8) at the end of the biannual meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors made no mention of its decision on Saturday that Peter Saunders, a clerical abuse victim from Britain, would take a “leave of absence.”

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 *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-VATICAN-ABUSE, originally transmitted on Feb. 8, 2016.

After that announcement, following a majority decision by the 17-member commission indicating they could no longer work with Saunders, he insisted that he had no intention of resigning.

The final statement by the papal commission on Monday instead cited progress on a range of issues and reiterated that its chief task is establishing policies that churches around the world should follow to protect children.

Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in Britain, has frequently been critical of the Vatican’s handling of clerical abuse and the apparent slow working pace of the commission, which was created by Pope Francis nearly two years ago.

He has argued the advisory body should advocate for particular cases that come to light. One of those cases, Saunders says, concerns Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno in Chile, who was appointed by Francis last year.


RELATED STORY: Sex abuse victim allegedly sidelined by papal panel


Barros’ longtime mentor was a priest later convicted of sexually abusing children, the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Barros has denied allegations that he covered up abuse by Karadima and rejected calls for his resignation. He has also been supported by the pope, who has said there is no evidence that Barros knew of Karadima’s abuse; Francis has also sharply criticized Barros’ passionate critics.

During the commission’s meeting on Sunday, a survivor of abuse by Karadima, Juan Carlos Cruz, delivered letters from Catholics in his home country calling for the resignation of Barros.

Cruz said he handed the letters to the commission’s president, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in the hope they would be passed on to the pope.

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

Another abuse victim, Marie Collins of Ireland, has said she wants the commission to be effective. She remains on the commission and has not commented publicly on Saunders’ status.

The commission’s final statement said that proposals to be put to the pope include establishing a regular day of prayer and “a penitential liturgy” as well as “a request for him to remind all authorities in the church of the importance of responding directly to victims and survivors who approach them.”

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 6, 2013 ahead of the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Photo by REUTERS/Tony Gentile *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-PELL-ABUSE, transmitted May 22, 2015 or RNS-PELL-VATICAN on June 1, 2015 or RNS-VATICAN-TAXES on June 10, 2015 or RNS-VATICAN-ASSETS, originally transmitted on July 16, 2015, and with RNS-SYNOD-FAMILIES, originally transmitted on Oct. 12, 2015

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 6, 2013 ahead of the conclave that elected Pope Francis. Photo by REUTERS/Tony Gentile
*Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-PELL-ABUSE, transmitted May 22, 2015 or RNS-PELL-VATICAN on June 1, 2015 or RNS-VATICAN-TAXES on June 10, 2015 or RNS-VATICAN-ASSETS, originally transmitted on July 16, 2015, or with RNS-SYNOD-FAMILIES, originally transmitted on Oct. 12, 2015, or with RNS-VATICAN-ABUSE, originally transmitted on Feb. 8, 2016.

The body is also developing a website on best practices and is bringing in a growing number of outside experts to advise them while also meeting with bishops conferences around the world to brief them on preventing and dealing with cases of clerical abuse.

The pope last year agreed to create an in-house tribunal to hear cases of bishops who fail to protect children from clerical molesters, but it hasn’t been set up yet.

In a related development, an official panel in Australia investigating the sexual abuse of children said that the Vatican’s financial chief, Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Sydney, would be allowed to appear by video link to respond to questions related to his knowledge of abuse while serving in Australia.


RELATED STORY: Vatican defends Australian cardinal against charges he disregarded abusers


Pell has said a heart condition limits his ability to travel.

Saunders last year called Pell “almost sociopathic” in his handling of sex abuse claims while he was in Australia, a criticism the Vatican rejected.

(Rosie Scammell covers the Vatican for RNS)

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  • skiadvocat

    This Vatican commission reminds me of the lyrics from the 1963 movie, Charade, with Katherine Hepburn. It is all a “charade”, don’t you know !

    When we played our charade
    We were like children posing
    Playing at games, acting out names
    Guessing the parts we played

    Oh what a hit we made
    We came on next to closing
    Best on the bill, lovers until
    Love left the masquerade

  • Fran

    I loved that movie with Audrey, Cary Grant and Walter Matthau, from the good ole days…I can even sing the song you cited..? It had a better ending than this situation!

  • Betty Clermont

    The usual unprofessional journalism from RNS on this pontificate. Saturday’s headline: “Sex abuse victim ALLEGEDLY sidelined by papal panel.” Now it’s: “effectively ousted.” Today it’s: “Vatican sex abuse commission ends turbulent meeting, cites progress,” when nothing has been accomplished in over 2 years. It took 8 months for RNS to notice that the pope’s much-vaunted tribunal still doesn’t exist. Meanwhile, children are still being sexually abused around the world by the pope’s men. Shame!

  • Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    I am a physician who has met many who have been sexually abused/raped by priests. I am also a victim/survivor of a sexual assault by a priest. As a Catholic, I would hope that Pope Francis would listen to the concerns of Peter Saunders and to Juan Carlos Cruz, who was also in Rome last weekend, and who witnessed the new bishop being complicit in sex abuse in the past. Rosie, does it concern you that the pope does not care to hear the truth, even when the people of Osorno, Chile want to protect their children from this new bishop? Why is the pope deaf to his people? Bishopaccountability.org reports that Pope Francis covered up for predator priests and refused to meet with victims when he was archbishop in Argentina. Rosie, I think you did a good job of reporting. Please see the movie SPOTLIGHT and see the fine work of the Boston Globe investigative reporters, in getting to the truth of the church’s cover up of predator priests in Boston. Pope covers up, children remain at risk.

  • patrick

    Dr McHugh –
    Let us first understand what is meant by “sexual abuse”.

    “ 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. “

    “ This report contains the findings of the Grand Jury: how dozens of priests sexually abused hundreds of children; how Philadelphia Archdiocese officials – including Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Krol – excused and enabled the
    abuse….”

    The two preceding paragraphs are copied verbatim from a 2003 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report investigating the clerical sexual abuse of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

    You can see that both Cardinal Bevilacqua and Cardinal Kroll were conspirators in the sexual abuse.

    You ask: “ Why is the pope deaf to his people? “

    As you (and I) saw at the the end of the film SPOTLITE, (as well as many other sources)…

  • patrick

    (continued)

    As you (and I) saw at the the end of the film SPOTLITE, (as well as many other sources) there was a list of the worldwide countries where clerical sexual abuse occurs.

    If the Pope (the Vicar of Christ) would take heed of the sensitivities of the members of the Church – the Church would cease to exist as currently constituted.

    I was raised a Roman Catholic. One of the greatest moments of my life was when I summoned the courage to overcome the fear that was inculcated in me – and repudiate the Church and all it stands for.