Abuse vic­tims call for ‘con­crete’ ac­tion by church

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - WORLD REPORT - By Elis­a­betta Po­v­oledo

ROME >> The first thing Pope Francis said when he met pri­vately on Sun­day with Juan Car­los Cruz, a vic­tim of sex­ual abuse, was: “Juan Car­los, I want to say sorry for what hap­pened to you, as the pope and also for the uni­ver­sal church.”

The sec­ond thing he said, Cruz re­counted on Wed­nes­day, was, “I was part of the prob­lem, and that’s why I am say­ing sorry.”

“To me, that was very telling,” Cruz said. The pope, he said, “had called me a liar, and he apol­o­gized for that.”

Cruz joined James Hamil­ton and Jose An­dres Murillo, also vic­tims in their youth of a no­to­ri­ous Chilean pe­dophile priest, at a news con­fer­ence in Rome on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss their in­tense and emo­tional so­journ this past week as guests of the pope in the Vat­i­can.

But even as the three men ex­pressed grat­i­tude for the meet­ing — “I have never seen any­one so con­trite,” Cruz said of Francis — they urged the pope to trans­form “his lov­ing words” of apol­ogy into “ex­em­plary ac­tions” to end sex­ual abuse and its cover-up in the Ro­man Catholic Church.

“Other­wise, all this will be in vain,” they said in a joint state­ment that de­scribed cler­i­cal sex­ual abuse as “an epi­demic that has de­stroyed thou­sands of lives.” They said they hoped to speak on be­half of abuse vic­tims around the world.

CRIT­ICS of Francis say the pope has a spotty record on abuse. He is big on pro­nounce­ments, they say, but weak on fol­low-through.

In 2011, a Vat­i­can tri­bunal found the Rev. Fer­nando Karadima, once one of Chile’s best known spir­i­tual lead­ers, guilty of sex­u­ally abus­ing mi­nors and sen­tenced him to a life of prayer and pen­i­tence.

But vic­tims of Karadima say the Chilean church and the Vat­i­can were slow to act in the case of cler­ics who they say wit­nessed and cov­ered up years of abuse by Karadima and oth­ers. Francis, for ex­am­ple, ve­he­mently de­fended Bishop Juan Bar­ros, who vic­tims placed at the scene of Karadima’s abuses, and in Jan­uary ac­cused his crit­ics of “calumny.”

All that changed af­ter the pope re­ceived a 2,300-page re­port on the Chilean sit­u­a­tion. In a let­ter, Francis ad­mit­ted last month that he had made “grave er­rors” in the han­dling of the sex­ual abuse cri­sis in Chile, and he pub­licly apol­o­gized.

He also in­vited Cruz, Hamil­ton and Murillo to stay at the ho­tel in­side Vat­i­can City so that he could speak with them in­di­vid­u­ally, and ask for for­give­ness. The three men have been among the most out­spo­ken vic­tims of Karadima, who counted bish­ops and priests among his dis­ci­ples.

“For al­most 10 years we have been treated as en­e­mies be­cause we fight against sex­ual abuse and cover-up in the church,” the three men said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “Th­ese days we met the friendly face of the church, com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the one we had seen be­fore.”

CRUZ said he be­lieved Francis had been mis­in­formed about Bar­ros’ case. “The ques­tion is,” he said, “who badly in­formed the pope?”

Cruz said he had not pressed the pope on “what he knew and what he didn’t know.” But, he said, he named cler­ics who knew “that Karadima touched and abused mi­nors,” and he told Francis about “the tox­i­c­ity” of Chilean church­men who had “duped” the pope.

While the three men said they had not made spe­cific de­mands of Francis, they were clear that the ball was very much in the pope’s court.

“Our only tri­umph is hav­ing said to the head of the church, the pope, that there is a cri­sis, and that some­thing con­crete must be done,” Murillo said. The church, he said, “must re­turn to be­ing a cham­pion of the abused, not a refuge for abusers.”

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