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I’m still on the Vatican commission, says abuse survivor Peter Saunders

Peter Saunders (PA)

British campaigner Peter Saunders has insisted he is still part of the Vatican’s commission on protecting children from abuse.

In a letter published in today’s Catholic Herald, Saunders says that, although he was encouraged to resign after his strong criticisms of the speed of Vatican reforms, he is only on a “leave of absence”.

He says he hopes to lead a “victims and survivors’ consultative panel” to assist the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. This was suggested by the commission president, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who had consulted the “C8” group of cardinals.

Saunders, the founder of NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood), had been an outspoken member of the Vatican commission until February, when he went on leave after questioning Pope Francis’s commitment to reform.

Saunders said at the time that he had asked the Pope to attend a meeting and that it would be “outrageous” if he failed to. He also criticised the appointment of a Chilean priest, Juan Barros, to a bishopric. Bishop Barros has faced accusations of covering up for an abusive priest. “People in Chile now see the commission as a laughing stock and I cannot pretend the commission means anything unless [the Pope] sacks Barros,” Mr Saunders said.

In the letter published today, Saunders says he refused to resign when Cardinal O’Malley suggested it. “I told him I was not prepared to do so and he took my decision to Rome for the recent meeting of cardinals.”

Saunders writes that after the cardinal’s suggestion of the consultative panel, “I told Cardinal O’Malley that I would discuss this with other interested parties and that we would speak again in a couple of months. That is the current situation.

“I continue my leave of absence from the commission but remain committed to do anything I can to help our Church make the world a safer place for children.”

Saunders says the proposed consultative panel could follow the model of the victims and survivors’ panel which works with the Goddard inquiry, set up by the Government to examine historic child abuse.