External experts brought in by Pope Francis to help tackle the tiny city state’s ills are answering the papal call for openness — and infuriating some Holy See stalwarts in the process.
Over the past few months members of the pope’s commission for child protection — handpicked by Francis to help root out sex abuse in the Catholic Church — have publicly attacked a cardinal and a bishop.
The cardinal in question is the Vatican’s finance chief George Pell, who was accused by commissioner Peter Saunders of being an “almost sociopathic” man who covered up abuse and tried to buy the silence of at least one victim.
Australian Pell, who was described by Saunders as “a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy”, threatened legal action and was defended by the Vatican, who stressed Saunders was only expressing his personal views.
Despite the anger among red hats in the gilded corridors of Saint Peter’s, Saunders — a British child abuse victim — stood his ground and has not apologised.
The anti-paedophilia body has strong ties to survivor groups who are highly critical of the Vatican, and its members readily draw attention to the Church’s flaws, even if it embarrasses the very man who appointed them.
The second case concerned the nomination by Francis of a Chilean bishop, Juan de la Crux Barros, who has ties to a notorious abuser priest in his home country and is suspected of helping cover up his crimes.
Four of the commission members took their concerns to the body’s president, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, saying he had agreed to pass them on to the pope.
– Growing role of independent experts –
They stressed the need for bishops who “are committed to and have an understanding of child protection” — but the Vatican insisted in this case it had done its background checks on Barros and not found him wanting.
The commission for child protection reminded its members on Tuesday that they do not have the “jurisdiction to comment on individual cases or investigations.”
But it also called on cardinals and bishops to help crack down on abuse, saying “those in a position of authority must act quickly, transparently, with the clear intent to see justice take its course.”
The very fact that some experts feel they can call the Vatican’s top brass to order shows the growing role of independent experts in everything from the state’s finances and media operation to fighting child sex abuse, religious watchers say.
Marco Politi, Vatican expert and papal biographer, told AFP that in the abuse commission’s case, some members felt forced to speak out because of their frustration at the Vatican’s sluggish approach to change.
“The flurry of accusations and statements are the sign of an unease over the slowness with which the commission’s work is proceeding,” he said.
A year after being set up the body “has still not drawn up new, more stringent guidelines for bishops, or created a central body charged with informing the pope about striking cases which local bishops have preferred not to tackle.”