British member of Vatican sexual abuse commission leaves

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VATICAN CITY, Feb 6 (Reuters) - A leading British member of a papal advisory commission on sexual abuse who has been among the most outspokenly critical of the Vatican has left the group, the Vatican said on Saturday, in an embarrassment for the Holy See.

A statement said that at a commission meeting "it was decided" that Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence. Saunders, himself a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, did not immediately reply to a telephone message requesting a comment on the circumstances of his departure.

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It said Saunders, head of Britain's National Association for People Abused in Childhood, would now "consider how he might best support the commission's work."

In a separate statement on Saturday, commission president Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Saunders had been asked to advise the commission on the possible establishment of a victim survivor panel.

His departure leaves only one victim of sexual abuse by a cleric, Marie Collins of Ireland, sitting on the commission, which has been slowed down by internal disputes.

RELATED: See photos of Pope Francis' trip to NYC last year:

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Pope Francis in NYC, St. Patricks Cathedral
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British member of Vatican sexual abuse commission leaves
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives for a multi-religious service at the site of the 9/11 memorial and Museum on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Thomas A. Ferrara - Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis speaks during a multi-religious prayer for peace at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is in New York on a two day visit and will carry out a number of engagements including a Papal motorcade through Central Park and a Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrates evening prayers at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on September 24, 2015. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis greets people as he leaves St. Patrick's Cathedral September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on his first trip to the United States, visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. (Photo by Chad Rachman-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis speaks to the congregation at St. Patrick's Cathedral September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on his first trip to the United States, visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. (Photo by Chad Rachman-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis walks across the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on his first trip to the United States, visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. (Photo by Chad Rachman-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis is assisted as he leads a service at St Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is in New York on a two day visit and will carry out a number of engagements including a Papal motorcade through Central Park and a Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Parishioners wait for Pope Francis to arrive at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is scheduled to celebrate vespers, or evening prayers, and a shared a reflection after a procession down 5th Ave. (Photo by Robert Sabo-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis leads a service at St Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is in New York on a two day visit and will carry out a number of engagements including a Papal motorcade through Central Park and a Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he approaches the St Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he approaches St Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis makes his way down 5th Avenue in New York City on his way to St. Patrick's in New York City September 24, 2015 . The Pope will hold a prayer service at St. Patricks Cathedral . AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis acknowledges well-wishers outside St. Patrick's Cathedral as New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (L) and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (C) look on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Damon Winter-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Crowds cheer as Pope Francis drives down 5th Avenue while on his way to St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope will offer evening prayers tonight at St. Patrick's Cathedral. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves as he approaches St. Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Spectators watch from the corner of 51st Street and Fifth Avenue trying to get a glimpse of Pope Francis as he enters St. Patrick's Cathedral September 24, 2015 in New York City. The pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Aristide Economopoulos-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis gestures as he approaches the St Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis gets off his mobile as he arrives at St. Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives at the St Patrick's Cathedral to lead evening prayers in New York on September 24, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in New York on the second leg of his US tour where he will address the UN General Assembly, visit the 9/11 Memorial and celebrate mass at Madison Square Garden. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis is given a gift during his arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on his first trip to the United States, visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. (Photo by Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis makes his way down 5th Avenue in New York City on his way to St. Patricks in New York City September 24, 2015 . The Pope will hold a prayer service at St. Patricks Cathedral . AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio (R) and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton (L) wait outside St. Patrick's Cathedral for the arrival of Pope Francis September 24, 2015 in New York City. Maryland.The pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Damon Winter-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport September 24, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on his first trip to the United States, visiting Washington, DC, New York and Philadelphia. (Photo by Craig Ruttle-Pool/Getty Images)
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Saunders had been increasingly critical of the commission, which was set up in 2014. Made up of clerics and lay people from around the world, its task is to help Pope Francis root out sex abuse in the Church. Eight members are women.

On the eve of the commission's current meeting, Saunders was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that the previous meeting last year was a "non-event," and demanded that the pope attend the current meeting.

"It will be outrageous if he doesn't attend, and I will say so - it will be the end of the honeymoon for Pope Francis," the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying.

In a worldwide sex abuse scandal, which first became prominent in Boston in 2001, abusers were shunted from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to authorities.

Saunders has been spoken out on several issues in the past few months. Last year, he criticized Francis for appearing to endorse parents who spanked their children in order to discipline them.

He also made waves when he said that Australian Cardinal George Pell should be dismissed over allegations he failed to take action to protect children years ago. Pell is now the Vatican's economic minister.

The 17-member commission distanced itself from Saunders comments about Pell.

Last April, Saunders and three other lay commission members met with O'Malley of Boston, to complain over the over the appointment of a bishop in Chile accused of covering up abuse.

The Vatican says that as part of an advisory body, the commission's members should not comment on individual cases of abuse and leave these up to investigators. (Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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