Pope Francis Told to Hand Priests over to Police As New Vatican Child Abuse Commission Starts Work
By Nick Squires
February 6, 2015
Pope Francis should immediately hand over to the police all the Vatican documents on Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children and “cast out the vipers” who are still being protected by the Church, a British survivor of clerical abuse said.
The Catholic Church needs to end decades of obfuscation and cover-ups by fully cooperating with civil authorities around the world instead of protecting abusive priests, moving them from parish to parish or subjecting them only to canon law, said Peter Saunders.
Peter Saunders, who was sexually abused as a child in London by two Catholic priests and the headmaster of his Catholic primary school, was appointed by the Pope to a new Vatican commission on child protection, which will hold its first full meeting on Friday in Rome.
“The Pope should release all the documents the Vatican has on abusive priests,” he said in an interview shortly after arriving in Rome for the meeting of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
“The Holy Father is a supreme monarch and bishops around the world are answerable to him. “If he says they must give up the documents, they can’t argue with that. It’s one of the things I will be saying to the commission – unless they throw me out.
“I will tell the Pope that priests who are still being protected by dioceses around the world should be kicked out. We need the Church to cleanse itself.”
Mr Saunders, the founder of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: “Victims of abuse are not interested in financial compensation from the Church, we just want a sincere apology, for the Church to say ‘we will cast out these vipers in our midst’.”
A committed Catholic despite the horrific abuse that he endured as a child, Mr Saunders said he would urge the Vatican to embark on a wide-ranging discussion on whether priestly celibacy leads to sexual abuse.
He also wants a frank debate on why the Catholic Church continues to ban women from entering the clergy, saying the rule has no basis in the Bible.
He hopes that the commission, which will meet just twice a year, will not turn out to be a “toothless exercise” but will reserve judgment until he sees how much clout it really has.
It was created by the Pope in Dec 2013 but is only now convening for the first time with all its members.
“If the Church is serious about reform and wants to welcome back the many of millions of people who have deserted it in droves then it has to show it is compassionate.”
He met the Pope last July for a one-to-one encounter in which he told the South American pontiff that he and other victims had been “very damaged” by sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy.
“I told him that abuse screwed up my life in a very significant way. I’m 57 and I still have weekly therapy. Some people can’t hack it and end up taking their lives. Abuse desecrates a child’s body and spirit but when it is done by someone representing God it adds a really disgusting, evil dimension.”
On Thursday the Pope sent a letter to bishops around the world, ordering them to cooperate with the commission.
"Everything possible must be done to rid the Church of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and to open pathways of reconciliation and healing for those who were abused," he wrote.
"Families need to know that the Church is making every effort to protect their children ... priority must not be given to any other kind of concern, whatever its nature, such as the desire to avoid scandal, since there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse minors." But he stopped short of ordering bishops to introduce a policy of mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to the police.
The commission is made up of 17 clerics and lay people from around the world.
The only other British member is Baroness Sheila Hollins, a psychiatrist and a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Medical Association.
Campaigners in the US backed Mr Saunders’ demand for concrete action to be taken to bring to justice priests accused of paedophile abuse.
“Again, a Pope talks the talk on abuse while refusing to take even one real step toward walking the walk,” said David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“The most decisive Pope in memory, who is quickly and dramatically changing church finances, governance and morale, remains stunningly unwilling to deal in any meaningful way with the Church’s greatest on-going crisis.
“Some people praise Francis for appointing yet another abuse panel. But in our view, that’s the last thing the Church needs.”
Bishop Accountability, another US-based anti-abuse group, said the Pope had failed to act against bishops who are known to be protecting priests accused of abusing or raping children, citing cases in the Philippines.
“An effective universal policy will require such bishops to be removed by the Vatican and their irresponsibility acknowledged by their national conferences and by the Pope,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, a director of the organisation.
“Bishops and religious superiors must be required to report all allegations to law enforcement authorities, even when not mandated by secular law, and they must be required to publicly release information about credibly accused priests, including the priests' names, assignment histories, alleged crimes, and church files.”