British child sexual abuse survivor to press pope over case of Chilean bishop

Child sex abuse survivors who were handpicked by Pope Francis to advise the Catholic church on how to address the issue are meeting with a senior church official in Rome on Sunday to criticise the Vatican’s handling of a case in Chile.

Peter Saunders, a Briton who was abused by two priests as a teenager, told the Guardian that in an emergency meeting with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who heads the pope’s abuse committee, he would demand action in a case involving a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros.

Barros, who was appointed to the Osorno diocese in January, has been accused of covering up child abuse by his mentor, the Rev Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of molestation in 2011. Barros has denied the allegations.

“Bishops, priests or other religious [officials] who have convictions, credible allegations or who have covered up for perpetrators must be removed from my church. That’s what I’ll be asking Cardinal Sean to pass to the pope, if I don’t get to see him myself,” Saunders said.

He added that he was hoping to “collar Francis at the same time” because they would be dining in the same refectory. Marie Collins, an abuse survivor from Ireland, and two other members of the committee will also meet O’Malley.

A Vatican spokesman declined to comment.

Collins’ and Saunders’ appointment to the abuse committee – they were the first abuse survivors to be included – was celebrated at the time of their selection in 2014 as a sign of how seriously Francis took the issue.

However, the Barros controversy risks severely undermining the pope’s stated commitment to addressing the church’s legacy of abuse and coverups.

Following Barros’s initial appointment, there was some speculation that the pope might not have been aware of the allegations against him. Since then, however, the Vatican has issued its unequivocal support for his selection, saying it had vetted Barros thoroughly and found no “objective reason” to stop his appointment to the Osorno diocese.

In some cases, Barros has been accused not only of covering up for Karadima, who is living a cloistered life of “penitence and prayer”, but of observing the abuse. Barros has said he was unaware of any allegations against Karadima until they became public in media reports in 2010.

Saunders told the Guardian that he would also be passing a letter to Francis in which he would ask the pontiff to retract a comment that it was acceptable to smack children as long as their dignity was maintained.

Saunders said he wanted the pope to address the issue in his speech to the UN in September. “Children should be loved, nurtured and led by example. They don’t need violence of any kind. There is enough of that in the world,” he said.