VATICAN CITY — 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, went throughout the weekend and into Monday.
The survivors — Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo — were invited by the Pope to stay at the Vatican’s St. 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 statements 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 Father Karadima’s abuses, but at times also participating.
Allegations were also made against three other bishops — Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela — who Father Karadima’s victims accuse of also covering the abuser’s crimes.
While on the ground, Archbishop Scicluna interviewed some 64 people, most of whom were victims, but the scale of the investigation went beyond Bishop 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 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.
However, after receiving Archbishop 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 Archbishop Scicluna’s report as well the Pope’s own conclusions on the matter.
In recent comments made to The New York Times, Cruz, who met with Francis Sunday, said he was looking forward to speaking with the Pope with “an open heart” and hearing what the pontiff has to say.
Above all, Cruz said he wanted 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 mad at Pope Francis, but does not want to be. Though he understands that “people make mistakes,” Cruz said he still grapples with the fact that the Pope didn’t act sooner, and said 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 Bishop Barros will be relieved from his post in Osorno.
But despite the disappointment and “shattered” vision of the Pope that he had going into the meeting, Cruz said the Pope is still the pope, and “I hope we all get some kind of healing out of this for ourselves.”