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Vatican Stresses Policy Role of Sex-abuse Panel After Member's Ouster

Peter Saunders, a British advocate for survivors, in Rome, Feb. 6, 2016. Pope Francis’ sex abuse advisory committee voted Saturday to temporarily sideline Saunders, who had clashed with the commission.

Pope Francis' sex-abuse commission stressed Monday that its sole purpose is to propose initiatives to protect children from pedophiles, after it effectively suspended a member who advocated a more activist role.

On Saturday, the commission told Peter Saunders, a British survivor of abuse, to take a leave of absence after he criticized the slow pace of progress and pressed to have the commission intervene immediately in individual cases, rather than just craft long-term policies to fight abuse.

In a statement Monday, the commission cited from its founding documentation that its "specific task" is to provide the pope with proposals to protect children and help local churches take responsibility for the problem.

It didn't mention Saunders in the statement concluding its weeklong plenary meeting.

Committee progress

Instead, it reported on progress to date, including finalizing a request for Francis to issue a reminder to church authorities that they must actually listen to victims when they come forward. And it said it was planning workshops this year on bringing greater transparency to church trials for priests accused of raping and molesting children.

Saunders, who made headlines on several occasions by criticizing the pope and cardinals for their handling of specific cases, contends that only Francis could remove him, and that he remains a commission member.

The commission was created in 2013 after Francis came under criticism from victims' groups who believed he didn't fully grasp the full scope of the problem.

It was slow to get off the ground, but has begun meeting with bishops and holding workshops for church personnel around the world.

The commission's most significant proposal -- to create an in-house tribunal to hear cases of bishops who fail to protect their flock -- was accepted by the pope but hasn't been put into practice.