UPDATE: 3:30 p.m. EST — Peter Saunders, the sexual abuse survivor the Vatican said was taking a leave of absence from a commision on sexual abuse, said Saturday he is not stepping down despite a no-confidence vote. Earlier in the day, the Vatican issued a statement saying "it was decided" Saunders would take a leave of absence.
Saunders, who was abused by two priests as a child, said only Pope Francis has the authority to dismiss him. He held a new conference to dismiss the commission's announcement.
"I have not left and I am not leaving my position. ... The only person who can remove me is the person who appointed me, the pope," Saunders said.
He added that he did not know about his "leave of absence" until the Vatican issued its statement on Saturday. Saunders has been critical of the commission that he's served on since 2014.
A key member of Pope Francis’ advisory commission on protecting children from sexual abuse has taken a leave of absence, dealing a blow to the credibility of the panel itself.
Peter Saunders, a sexual abuse survivor from the U.K., served on the commission, raising a critical voice in the debate on protecting children and punishing bishops who helped hide the behavior of pedophile priests. Formed in 2014, the commission's purpose is to offer advice to the Vatican on how to protect children, keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and raise awareness about sexual abuse.
But at a meeting on Saturday, "it was decided that Mr. Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the commission's work," the Vatican said.
As a result, only one abuse survivor, Marie Collins, is still on the panel.
One of the commission’s major proposals — that the Vatican form an in-house tribunal to address cases of bishops who failed to protect their parishioners from abuse — was successfully enacted last year. But the Vatican has not announced any updates on the tribunal since the pope agreed to its formation.
The issue of bishop accountability has dogged the church for years, as critics and advocacy groups have emphasized how poorly the church has responded to the problem of bishops who covered up for pedophile priests or simply transferred them to other parishes. Most recently, Pope Francis appointed a Chilean bishop to a new post, ignoring the allegations abuse survivors made about the bishop covering up for Chile’s worst pedophile priest.