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

Vatican sex abuse commission ends turbulent meeting, cites progress

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.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

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.


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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.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

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)