Whatever the merits of the decision, the optics of removing one of the two survivors of clerical sexual abuse serving on the Holy See’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors were not good. Peter Saunders, the founder of the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood, was given a leave of absence following a 15-to-0 vote of no confidence by the 17-member commission (with one abstention) at a meeting in Rome on Feb. 6.
Mr. Saunders had been an outspoken critic of the church’s ongoing efforts to prevent and respond to the abuse crisis; he claimed in the press that Pope Francis had gone back on a promise to attend the commission meetings and criticized the pope’s controversial decision to appoint Bishop Juan Barros, accused of covering up the sexual abuse crimes of a Chilean priest, to the Diocese of Osorno. Following the commission’s vote, Mr. Saunders told The Irish Times, “I cannot be part of something that runs alongside a system that is essentially corrupt and unwilling to do the right thing...protect children.” Other members, including Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, insist that the role of the commission is not to comment or intervene in individual cases but to consider overall church policy and to advise Francis on best practices in fighting sexual abuse. There were concerns that Mr. Saunder’s work as an advocate could interfere with this specific mission.
That may be the case. But having the voice and witness of survivors on the papal commission is essential. Mr. Saunders should be replaced with someone who shares his tragic, firsthand knowledge of this open wound in the Catholic Church.