Clergy abuse survivors grateful after private meetings with pope

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Chilean clerical sex abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo are pictured during a news conference at the Foreign Press Association building in Rome May 2. (Paul Haring/CNS)
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By Junno Arocho Esteves
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) — Three Chilean abuse survivors who met with Pope Francis said his apology to them must be accompanied by concrete actions, not only against those who commit sexual abuse, but against those who cover it up.

“I have never seen someone be so contrite about what he was telling me,” Juan Carlos Cruz told journalists May 2. “I also felt that he was hurting, which for me was very solemn. I don’t know what word to use because it’s not often the pope really says sorry to you and apologizes to you. He said, ‘I was part of the problem, I caused this and I’m sorry.’”

Jose Andres Murillo, another of the Chilean survivors, said, “All of us had different experiences with the pope, and even if we saw the forgiveness the pope asked, we’re waiting for actions.”

“We always said that we’re not here to do public relations but for actions,” Murillo said. “That’s what I’m waiting for.”

Pope Francis had invited Cruz, Murillo and James Hamilton to stay at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where he lives, and to meet with him individually April 27-29. They met him again as a group April 30.

Chilean clerical sex abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz and James Hamilton are pictured during a news conference at the Foreign Press Association building in Rome May 2. (Paul Haring/CNS)

“I spoke for more than two and a half hours alone with Pope Francis. He listened to me with great respect, affection and closeness, like a father. We talked about many subjects. Today, I have more hope in the future of our Church. Even though the task is enormous,” Juan Carlos Cruz tweeted April 29 after meeting with the pope.

Although the three survivors tweeted after their private meetings, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said Pope Francis “expressly wished” that no official statements would be released by the Vatican regarding his discussions with the survivors.

“His priority is to listen to the victims, ask their forgiveness and respect the confidentiality of these talks,” Burke said in a statement April 27. “In this climate of trust and reparation for suffering, the desire of Pope Francis is to allow his guests to speak as long as necessary, in a way that there is no set timetable or pre-established content.”

In a tweet sent after his April 27 meeting, Murillo said he spoke with Pope Francis for two hours and that “in a respectful and frank way, I expressed the importance of understanding abuse as an abuse of power, of the need to assume responsibility, of care and not just forgiveness.”

Chilean clerical sex abuse survivor James Hamilton is pictured before speaking to the media at the Foreign Press Association building in Rome May 2. (Paul Haring/CNS)

Hamilton sent two tweets April 28 shortly after his meeting with the pope, saying that it lasted a “little over two hours” and that it was “sincere, welcoming and enormously constructive.”

I am “very happy and satisfied,” he said.

The Chilean survivors have alleged that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno — then a priest — had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Fr. Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

Although he initially defended his 2015 appointment of Bishop Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno, Pope Francis apologized after receiving a 2,300-page report from a trusted investigator he sent to Chile to listen to people with information about the bishop.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Chilean clerical sex abuse survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo embrace after speaking to the media at the Foreign Press Association building in Rome May 2. (Paul Haring/CNS)

After a “careful reading” of the testimonies, “I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame,” the pope said April 11 in a letter to the bishops of Chile.

The pope also said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the Chilean bishops, which numerous media have reported will be May 14-17, to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions “without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives.”

Cardinal Riccardo Ezzati of Santiago called for Bishop Barros to step aside “for the good of the people of God and the Church.”

Even before Bishop Barros’ appointment, Church leaders had expressed their reservations about him and other bishops associated with Fr. Karadima.

The three survivors, who have been outspoken about the Church’s handling of abuse cases, welcomed Pope Francis’ letter and accepted his invitation to meet so he could ask “forgiveness of all those I have offended.”