VATICAN CITY (AP) — The three main protagonists in denouncing Chile’s sex abuse scandal will meet with Pope Francis on April 28-29 and will stay as his guests at the Vatican hotel where he lives, one of the men told The Associated Press.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Chile’s most famous predator priest, said he and his colleagues had agreed to Francis’ invitation to come to Rome so the pope could personally apologize for having discredited them during his recent trip to Chile.
In a telephone interview, Cruz said the three men would not allow the meeting to become a public relations coup for the Vatican. He said he would tell Francis of the “horror of abuse and the horror of the cover-up” that church leaders have committed over decades, and how they have discredited and defamed victims who went public.
Francis himself “was on that path, unfortunately” when he accused victims of “calumny” for having repeatedly denounced the behavior of Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, Cruz said. But he said Francis appeared to have “opened his eyes to a reality … about thousands of lives who have been crucified” by priests who rape and fondle children.
Francis made the about-face on Wednesday in a dramatic letter to Chile’s bishops in which he admitted he had made “grave errors in judgment” in the case of Barros, who is accused by Cruz and other victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.
Barros, a protege of the predator priest the Rev. Fernando Karadima, has denied their accusations.
Francis blamed a lack of “truthful and balanced information” for his missteps, and said he wanted to apologize in person to the victims he had offended.
Cruz said he and the two other vocal Chilean survivors, Jimmy Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, had been in talks for some time to arrange the visit. He said they would meet with Francis individually and as a group over the April 28-29 weekend, and that the pope wanted to spend a significant amount of time with them. They will stay at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican hotel where Francis lives.
The three will also meet with the Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, the Vatican official who along with Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna prepared the 2,300-page report on Barros that led to Francis’ turnabout.
Cruz thanked both men for having “restored what so many of us have lost: faith that there are good people who want to do the right thing in the church.”
In the letter, Francis also announced he was summoning all of Chile’s 32 bishops to Rome to discuss short, medium and long-term changes to the local church. That visit is expected at the end of May, after Francis hears first from the victims.