Pope Francis met with three Chilean victims of clerical sex abuse in the Vatican last weekend, in which he apologized to them for being “part of the problem.”
The pope hosted Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and Andres Murillo at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, where he lives. “Pope Francis formally asked us for forgiveness, in his own name and on behalf of the universal Church,” the three said in a statement released Wednesday in Rome.
Last February, a group of Chilean lay Catholics sharply criticized Pope Francis for defending Bishop Juan Barros, who had been accused of covering up for a sexually abusive priest in his diocese and of personally participating in the abuse.
Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for the organization Laicos de Osorno, said then that the pope would have to explain “who decided to constantly discredit the testimony of the victims,” since it is no longer “possible to maintain, as some do, that the pope didn’t know and that he had slanted information.”
Revelations surfaced at that time that Pope Francis had heard about the abuse problem in graphic detail from a victim in 2015, despite the pontiff’s more recent insistence that he had no knowledge of the accusations.
During a press conference aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from Chile and Peru in January, Francis said he had never heard from victims about Barros’ behavior.
Nonetheless, alleged abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz wrote to the pope in 2015 complaining of a homo-erotic circle of priests and boys around Father Fernando Karadima, in which Bishop Barros himself participated. Cruz explicitly accuses Barros, who had been a protégé of Father Karadima, of carrying on an openly homosexual relationship with the priest and of being present for the abuse of the boys around him.
In early April, Pope Francis Pope Francis acknowledged he had made “grave mistakes” in his handling of the Chilean sexual abuse scandal. In a letter to 32 Chilean bishops, the pope said that he would invite them to Rome to discuss an investigation into the abuse carried out by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
In that letter, Francis spoke of his “shame” and “pain” for the suffering of the victims and explained his actions by insisting he had been given insufficient information about the case.
“I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis wrote.
This past weekend Pope Francis met three alleged abuse victims prior to a summit with Chile’s bishops scheduled for later this month.
In a lengthy press conference, one of the men told the press that Francis had acknowledged, “I was part of the problem, I caused this, and I apologize to you.”
The three men also stated they would like to see several members of the Chilean hierarchy stand trial as “criminals” for having covered up abuse accusations.
“We would love to see [Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Ricardo Ezzati] stand trial,” Murillo said. “We consider them guilty of covering up.”
“Cardinal Errázuriz covered up the crimes of Karadima for more than five years,” Hamilton declared. “According to canon law and for the victims, he’s a criminal who covered up for Karadima and his circle.”
While Errázuriz is retired from his former post as archbishop emeritus of Santiago, Chile, he still plays a key role by sitting on the pope’s inner council of nine cardinals who advise him on the reform of the Roman curia.
“We were able to speak frankly and respectfully with the pope,” the men said in their statement. “We talked about difficult issues, such as sexual abuse, abuse of power and especially the cover-up of the Chilean bishops.”
During the press conference, Hamilton expressed his wish that “the Church becomes an ally in the fight against abuse, and not a refuge of abusers.”
“But I also acknowledge that there are a lot of people within the Church, the indispensables, who do a lot of work in favor of the victims too,” he said.
The pope met with each of the three men individually as well as meeting them in a group.
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