Pope begins meetings with Chilean abuse survivors

Pope Francis in Chile January 2018. Credit: Vatican Media/CNA.
Pope Francis in Chile January 2018. Credit: Vatican Media/CNA.

.- Last night Pope Francis began individual meetings with three survivors of clerical sexual abuse from Chile following a major apology earlier this month. The encounters, which have no time limit, will go on throughout the weekend and on Monday.

The survivors – Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo – were invited by the pope to stay at the Vatican's Saint Martha guesthouse, where he has lived since his election in 2013.

In an April 27 statement from the Vatican, spokesman Greg Burke said there will be no official communique on the encounters, as Francis' primary intention is “to listen to the victims, ask them for forgiveness and respect the confidentiality of these meetings.”

“In this climate of trust and of reparation for suffering,” Bruke said, “the desire of Pope Francis is to allow those invited to speak for as long as needed, such that there are no fixed schedules or predetermined content.”

Cruz, Hamilton and Murillo were each victims of abuse carried out by Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was found guilty by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of sexually abusing several minors during the 1980s and 1990s, and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

The pope invited the three men to come to the Vatican after receiving a 2,300 page report from Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who is highly regarded as the Vatican's top abuse investigator and who traveled to the United States and Chile in February to investigate allegations of cover-up.

Initially the investigation was centered around Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was appointed to the diocese in 2015 and who has been accused by Cruz and several others of not only covering up Karadima's abuses, but at times also participating.

Allegations were also made against three other bishops – Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela – who Karadima's victims accuse of also covering the abuser's crimes.

While on the ground Scicluna interviewed some 64 people, most of whom were victims, but the scale of the investigation went beyond Barros. It is said to be much more extensive, including details from other cases, such as the Marist Brothers, who are currently under canonical investigation after allegations of sexual abuse by some of the members surfaced in August 2017.

Pope Francis had previous defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop's guilt, and called accusations against him “calumny” during a trip to Chile in January.

However, after receiving Scicluna's report, Francis issued a major “mea culpa” April 11, saying he had made “serious errors in the judgment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

He invited Cruz, Hamilton and Murillo to meet with him privately at the Vatican, and summoned all of Chile's 32 bishops to Rome in the third week of May, where they will discuss the conclusions of Scicluna's report as well the pope's own conclusions on the matter.

In recent comments made to the New York Times, Cruz, who will meet with Francis Sunday, said he is looking forward to speaking with the pope with “an open heart” and hearing what the pontiff has to say.

Above all, Cruz said he wants to convey “the pain and suffering of so many people,” many of whom, he said, suffered more than he has, and “I've suffered a lot.”

Cruz said at times he has been made at Pope Francis, but does not want to be. Though understands that “people make mistakes,” Cruz said he still grapples with the fact that the pope didn't act sooner, and that for him, the meeting will be a waste “if it doesn't result in concrete actions.”

“And firing a few bishops won't do the trick,” he said, voicing hope that Barros will be relieved from his post in Osorno.

But despite the disappointment and “shattered” vision of the pope that he has going into the meting, Cruz said the pope is still the pope, and “I hope we all get some kind of healing out of this, for ourselves.”

Tags: Catholic News, Clerical Abuse, Chile, Pope Francis