VATICAN CITY — Survivors of sexual abuse and other abuses perpetrated by Chile’s most notorious abuser priest, Fernando Karadima, met with Pope Francis Saturday. They said they found a pope who not only listened and suffered with them, but who truly understood the depth of the crisis and the steps that are needed going forward.
“I came to Rome with three ideas. First, that he invited us, the advice that Peter would share with us, and also with hope. I have to say that the three things are confirmed and have exceeded my expectations,” Father Eugenio de la Fuente Lora told journalists June 2 after meeting with the Pope.
Three fundamental takeaways from the encounter, he said, are the Pope’s “listening, empathy and welcome.”
Father de la Fuente, who was a victim of Father Karadima’s abuse, voiced gratitude for feeling “completely understood by someone admirably empathetic, who suffered with my pain and understood it.”
Pope Francis, he said, “has a very deep understanding of the problem and ... he has some very concrete ideas for how to advance, always on the short, medium and long term.”
Renewal won’t be immediate, but it will take time, he said, adding that the Pope is “very clear” about what needs to be done.
Father de la Fuente is part of a second group of priests and victims of Chile’s most notorious abuser priest. They held holding meetings with Pope Francis at the Vatican June 1-3.
Staying at the Santa Marta guesthouse, where Pope Francis lives, the group of nine included five priests who were victims of abuse of power, conscience and sexuality; two priests who have been assisting the victims; and two laypeople.
In addition to Father de la Fuente, the group included Father Francisco Javier Astaburuaga Ossa, a priest who accompanied victims Juan Carlos Cruz and James Hamilton before they went public about their abuse. Another victim of Father Karadima’s abuse, Father Alejandro Vial Amunátegui, was also part of the group.
Two of the other priests who met with the Pope were Fathers Javier Barros Bascuñán and Sergio Cobo Montalba. The remaining four participants have chosen not to go public.
Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, who assisted Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna in the February investigation of the Chilean crisis, was also present. The two investigators will travel to Chile again in the coming days, this time visiting the Diocese of Osorno, rather than Santiago.
Saturday’s meeting with survivors began with 4pm Mass June 2, after which the group stayed with the Pope for four hours and 15 minutes. Francis met them individually and as a group before taking his leave at 8:15pm. No other encounters with the Pope were expected before the group returned to Chile.
In comments to the press after meeting with the Pope, Father Astaburuaga said Francis focused heavily on the concept of the “holy faithful People of God” spoken of in the Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium, saying the Church must work harder to build an ecclesiology that has “a strong sense” of this concept.
“The People of God are essential — pastors are from the People of God, and they are also there to serve the People of God,” Astaburuaga said, adding that all baptized are called to be “builders of the Church.”
The priest said that in order to change the “culture of abuse and concealment” Pope Francis spoke of in a recent letter to Chilean Catholics, a careful process of discernment is needed which takes three things into consideration: time, people and place.
When contemplating any decision, it's important to think about “who are the people, places and times,” he said, stressing that the process of renewal in Chile is “the work of everyone, not just one.”
“This is why the Pope insisted on returning to the concept of the People of God from the Second Vatican Council. We are all responsible: priests, bishops, laity, the holy people. It’s a joint task.”
Pope Francis, he said, listened “very carefully” when he spoke about his experience accompanying victims of abuse. “This is the testimony he gave us: to listen, and to listen with a lot of attention (and) a lot of trust.”
Though the process has at times been difficult, Father Astaburuaga said accompanying victims such as Cruz and Hamilton over the past 20 years “has its fruits,” and “it’s a great joy in the midst of their great suffering.”
Pope Francis, he said, also asked them to continue praying for the Church in Chile, particularly by emphasizing Eucharistic adoration more strongly in local dioceses.
The Pope also again asked for forgiveness in the name of the Church for the suffering each of them has lived, said Father Astaburuaga, who called the act “a great humility” on the part of the Pope.
“I’ll go back to Chile with a lot of hope,” he said, adding that “beyond the difficulties there are, conflicts are always an opportunity — conflicts that we have to face, but always with hope.”
Most of those who came to the Vatican for the June 2 meeting with the Pope participated in an investigation of abuse cover-up by the hierarchy in Chile, which took place in February and was conducted by Archbishop Scicluna of Malta and Msgr. Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The others worked with the investigation after the archbishop’s time in Chile.
This weekend’s gathering concluded the Pope's first round of meetings with the victims of abuses that occurred at Father Karadima’s Sacred Heart parish in Santiago.
Pope Francis met with three more of the victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo at the Vatican April 27-30.
Father Karadima was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011 of abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. He has not been sentenced by civil courts because of Chile’s statute of limitations.
A priestly association he was involved in and which he had led for many years, the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart, was suppressed within a year of his conviction.
Attention to this priest’s abuse has heightened since the appointment of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid to the Diocese of Osorno in 2015. Bishop Barros had been accused of both covering up and at times participating in Father Karadima’s abuses.
Pope Francis initially defended Bishop 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. He later relented and sent Archbishop Scicluna to investigate the situation in Chile.
After receiving Archbishop Scicluna’s report, Francis apologized, said that he had been seriously mistaken, and asked to meet the country’s bishops and survivors in person.
He met with Chile’s bishops May 15-17. As a result, each of them tendered letters of resignation, which Pope Francis has yet to accept or reject. The Pope also gave the bishops a letter chastising them for systemic cover-up of clerical abuse and calling them to institute deep changes.
On May 31, the Vatican announced that Francis has decided to send Archbishop Scicluna and Msgr. Bertomeu back to Chile in the coming days, this time traveling to where Bishop Barros is stationed, in order to “advance the process of healing and reparation for victims of abuse” in Chile.