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Outspoken member removed from Pope's sex-abuse commission

February 08, 2016

An outspoken member of the special papal commission on sexual abuse has been removed from his role—but refuses to step down quietly.

The Vatican announced on February 6 that Peter Saunders had taken a leave of absence from his role. But Saunders directly contradicted that statement, saying: "I have not left, and am not leaving my position on the commission." Saunders said that he had been appointed by Pope Francis, and would not accept dismissal by anyone else. 

Saunders, who is himself an abuse victim and the British founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, had said last week that it would be "outrageous" if Pope Francis did not attend the meetings of the commission that were being held in Rome. That was the latest and most dramatic in a series of pubilc statements by Saunders criticizing the Pope and the Vatican. He had denounced the appointment of a Chilean bishop who has been accused of ignoring abuse, and charged that Cardinal George Pell was "almost sociopathic" in his response to abuse complaints—a charge that prompted the Australian prelate to consider legal action.

As the papal commission concluded its week of meetings, the group issued a subdued statement that did not mention Saunders' departure. But the statement emphasized that the papal commission was assigned to offer proposals for policies that would protect children from abuse—rather than to judge the past performance of bishops in handling the issue.

The statement said that the commission, chaired by Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, has been "actively in contact with numerous bishops' conferences" in helping to design programs for protecting young people. The commission noted its request for all bishops to recognize the importance of dealing promptly and forthrightly with abuse complains, and mentioned plans for a penitential liturgy and a worldwide day of prayer for abuse victims. 

The commission's bland public statement, following the disputed removal of its most contentious member, served only to underline public questions about the group's effectiveness and its authority. John Allen noted, on the Crux web site, that the papal commission was not invited to make a presentation at a Vatican orientation program for newly appointed bishops, when they discussed the handling of sex-abuse complaints. A question raised by Allen is especially pointed in light of the commission's reminder that its role is to offer suggestion for programs to safeguard children: "Why is the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the body led by O'Malley, not entrusted with making such a presentation to new bishops?" 

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  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Feb. 08, 2016 11:39 PM ET USA

    It is way past the time to remove him. His way is not the christian way to resolve this problem.