VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Francis has appointed eight new members from five continents to the Vatican’s child protection body, including a British victim of paedophile priests, the Holy See said Wednesday.
The commission of experts, which is tasked with advising Francis on how to deal with a sex abuse scandal which rocked the Catholic Church in the 2000s, is now “a wide representation of situations and cultures,” the Vatican said.
Led by American cardinal Sean O’Malley, the body – set up a year ago – is now made up of seven women and nine men, from both the clerical and lay worlds, with new members hailing from Australia, Britain, Colombia, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, United States and Zambia.
Peter Saunders from Britain is the second paedophile victim to be appointed to the commission created to root out paedophilia in the Catholic Church, after Marie Collins from Ireland, an outspoken campaigner for the rights of victims.
Saunders, who was abused throughout his childhood by two priests, set up NAPAC, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, which aims to support victims and develop resources for responding to child abuse.
The appointment of new members to the body – including child protection trainers, psychologists and specialists in human rights – follows Francis’ move in November to create a separate commission to speed up the appeal process for priests found guilty by the Church of child sex abuse.
Speeding up the process would see sex abusers handed a definitive conviction more quickly, as well as helping innocent priests eager to clear their names.
For more than a decade, the Catholic Church has been rocked by a cascade of paedophilia scandals, with victims describing the trauma of abuse at the hands of people charged with their care.
A UN committee in February denounced the Church for its secretive handling of child abuse accusations and for failing to stamp out predatory priests, and urged it to hand over known and suspected abusers for prosecution.
Pope Francis hit back, saying the Church had “acted with transparency and accountability” in its handling of the scourge.
Despite his recognition of abuse as “the shame of the Church”, some victims’ groups have accused him of not doing enough, most prominently the American association SNAP, which does not believe the commission will resolve the issue.
“We know Pete Saunders and Marie Collins,” its director David Clohessy said Wednesday.
“They are wonderful, smart and compassionate individuals. We wish them, and the commission, well.
“But complicit Catholic officials need punishment, not advice. This commission can’t provide that. Only external pressure – from victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, police, prosecutors, and lawmakers – can,” he said.