“The pope apologized to me, he was shocked at the abuse”

A victim of clerical misconduct, Cruz clashed with the pontiff during the latter’s visit to Chile. Soon after, he was invited to spend a week at the Francis’s residence to discuss the matter

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Father Karadima’s victims, at the headquarters of the Foundation of Trust, this past January in Chile.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Father Karadima’s victims, at the headquarters of the Foundation of Trust, this past January in Chile.SEBASTIÁN UTRERAS
Carlos E. Cué

Juan Carlos Cruz is still recovering from the shock. Three months ago, Cruz, who was a victim of sex abuse by a Chilean priest named Fernando Karadima, clashed with Pope Francis during the latter’s trip to the South American nation.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church accused Cruz of making slanderous statements without proof against Bishop Juan Barros, who had once been a protégé of Karadima. According to Cruz, Barros had been present when Karadima abused him in the 1980s, but later tried to hinder an investigation into his mentor.

The pope is taking unprecedented steps, he knows that the whole world is watching

Some time after the public spat, and following a Vatican investigation, the pontiff invited Cruz to spend at week at his own residence in Santa Marta, where he apologized and said that he now believed his story.

Since then, all 34 bishops of Chile have offered to resign over the scandal, marking a milestone in the global fight by victims of Church abuse. In a telephone interview with EL PAÍS, an emotional Cruz said he trusts that Pope Francis’ change of heart is definitive.

Question. How did you take the news about the 34 bishops’ offer to resign?

Answer. I am overcome with emotion after spending a week at the Pope’s house and talking with him for hours, as though we’d been lifelong friends, and then seeing his letter to the Chilean bishops mentioning many of the things that we’d discussed together and which he took very seriously, such as the issue of corruption among the bishops, and how he accused them of concealing documents and minimizing things...I was touched that he took our conversation so seriously. I felt that our time together was not simply a protocol thing or a public relations stunt.

Q. What did you tell him?

A. We talked about everything, about my life, what happened to me, the lack of action by the bishops, and how they tried to make us feel guilty. They’d told him that I was unhinged. The pope later told his secretary: “Juan Carlos could not have been any more endearing, how wonderful to have met him.”

Q. Did he say that he had been lied to on his trip to Chile? While he was there, he said that it was all slander.

A. The first thing he told me was “I want to apologize to you, in the name of the Pope and the Church, for everything that you have been through. I apologize personally, because I caused this situation that has given you so much pain in the last few months.” And I replied that it is not good for him to be surrounded by pernicious influences like the Nuncio, or Cardinal Errazuriz, who feeds him disinformation. And then he’s got bishops who work like a real mafia, concealing and minimizing everything. The Pope was shocked. I told him that these men had sunk his own image in Chile, and that is why there are so few people going to Mass. He said that he enjoyed going to Chile but that he had seen strange things there. He seemed hurt for having been to Chile with such poor information, and that’s why I believe him.

I cannot stand to think that what was done to me is being done to thousands of people by other bishops elsewhere in the world

Q. Did you talk about the abuse?

A. Yes, in great detail. I cried, and he looked very pained. He put his hand on my shoulder and said “Go ahead and cry, child.”

Q. Did you tell him that you are still a believer?

A. Yes, of course. He had been told that I did not have the faith, that I was an enemy of the Church. I told him that this made me very angry, because I still believe and I still love the Church, and I believe that this can change. “My faith is tremendously important to me, Your Holiness,” I said. I think it is horrible that they’re trying to destroy even that. “That is tremendously evil,” he replied. I explained that I want to be a good person, and I cannot stand to think that what was done to me is being done to thousands of people by other bishops elsewhere in the world, and this has got to end. I told him that he already has a good reputation for being an approachable man. “You could have a spectacular papacy if you grab the bull by the horns and get tough on the issue of abuse, and send out the message that the Pope is no longer going to tolerate this,” I said. And he replied: “Help me ensure that the Holy Spirit will guide me so I know what to do.”

Q. Do you think that he has taken the issue of abuse seriously?

A. Very seriously. I’m getting calls from lots of victims. I was very worried that people might think that I’d been “bought” by the Vatican, that this was just a PR stunt. It was very important to convey the suffering of so many people, to explain that the victims go through horror and the bishops then cover each other’s backs. I think he understood, the letter is very clear. It lashes out at the bishops. I think that requesting the resignation of an entire body of bishops is a giant step, such as we had not seen before.

Q. Could this pope go down in history for a change in the Church’s attitude towards sex abuse?

A. I think so. He is taking unprecedented steps, he knows that the whole world is watching. I am optimistic. I don’t want to be naïve, but this is having a tsunami effect: we have the Chilean precedent, and it will happen in other countries. We are very hopeful. Those people are truly evil, and all we Chileans want is for them to go home. The Pope treated us like kings in Santa Marta, and treated the bishops like children. It is obvious that we’re the ones that he believed. When he traveled to Chile he had the wrong information. I want to give him a second chance, he deserves it like everyone else.

Q. Did you discuss your homosexuality and how you had to endure further suffering because of it?

A. Yes, we did. He had pretty much been told that I was a perverse being. I explained that I was not a saint, but that I am not a bad person, either. I try not to hurt anybody. He told me: “Juan Carlos, it doesn’t matter that you’re gay. God made you that way and that is the way He wants you to be, and I don’t mind. The Pope wants you this way too, and you have to be happy with who you are.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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