VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has added a second survivor of priestly sex abuse to his commission of experts advising the Vatican on child protection policies, tapping a self-described “thorn in the side of the church” who has criticized the church’s response to the scandal.
Peter Saunders, 57, of Britain, was one of six abuse survivors who met with Francis at the Vatican in July, giving the Argentine Jesuit his first, firsthand account of the traumatic toll that abuse wreaks on its victims.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Saunders recalled telling the pope: “I’m not here as part of a PR exercise.”
“This is about action,” he said he told the pope. “The church getting its act together, protecting children, rooting out abusing clergy wherever they are and having a proper and compassionate response to victims and survivors, that has sadly been lacking in many places.”
Apparently, his frank words didn’t spook the pope. Francis asked Saunders to join the commission, bringing its full membership to 17, more than half of whom are women.
The group includes experts with a variety of expertise, lay and religious from Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and Oceania. They will meet for the first time as a group at the Vatican Feb. 6-8.
Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse and fellow critic of the church, was among the first members named.
The youngest of five children raised in a Catholic family, Saunders was sexually abused by a family member when he was seven, then by two Jesuit teachers at his school when he was 13 and 14. None ever faced justice, even when he reported the priests to police.
Saunders founded the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in 1995 to provide support for victims via a national hotline and specialists.
The U.S. victims group SNAP noted that while the commission is well-represented with psychologists, experts, victims and religious figures, it is sorely lacking in members with law enforcement or disciplinary backgrounds.
“And that’s what continues to be missing throughout this crisis — real discipline for church employees who endanger children,” SNAP’s Barbara Dorris said in a statement.
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