Chilean abuse victim’s respectful persistence holds Pope accountable

Pope Francis had an extraordinary meeting with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of priestly sexual abuse, whose testimony about molestation and subsequent cover-up the pope had originally publicly denigrated, calling it “calumny.”

Last month, Cardinal O’Malley, who is president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, publicly admonished the pope, who then reviewed a 2,300-page report based on interviews with 64 witnesses. The Pope wrote a letter of apology about his response to the Chilean victims, acknowledging that he “fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception … due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

Pope Francis told abuse victims, “I was part of the problem.”

Cruz said he was grateful for the Pope’s apology, but disputed that Francis had a lack of information about the abuse and alleged cover-up.   Cruz says Cardinal O’Malley told him that he had delivered a letter detailing the victims’ allegations directly into the hands of the pope.

In May, Cruz and two other Chileans victims spent personal time with the Pope over the course of several days, speaking candidly with him for hours. In an interview with NPR, Cruz said the Pope told him, “Juan Carlos, the first thing I want to do is apologize for what happened to you and apologize in the name of the pope, and in the name of the universal church.”

Cruz said, “He was listening and he sat right across from me and nobody was there. We talked one day three hours, another day two hours, another day an hour. … The pope cannot claim that he was misinformed like he did last time,”

Cruz said he talked not only about the abuse he suffered, but about the pain the Pope personally caused by publicly calling it “slander” when a bishop was accused of covering up the abuse. Cruz said he told Pope Francis, “You cannot imagine, Holy Father, what this does to someone who is trying to tell the truth.”

He named at least one “toxic” prelate who continues to work closely with the Pope, and whom Cruz considers to be part of the “culture of abuse” in the Church.

He said several times in the interview that, while he is grateful for his time with the Pope, and found his attention and concern moving, he is not yet satisfied, and wants to see concrete change in the way the Pope and the Church in general responds to victims of clerical abuse.

When the NPR interviewer asked Cruz how the entire experience has affected his faith, he said that his faith was the thing keeping him going. Because of his love for the Catholic Church, his goal is not only to find some measure of peace and justice for himself, but to give a voice to the countless other victims who are still suffering without redress.

Cruz’s example of respectful persistence epitomizes the proper role of the laity in the 21st century. We hope that those in authority in the Church will be true and just shepherds. But when they are not, it is our duty to persist in holding them to account. We build up the Body of Christ by holding its head to the highest standards, not by allowing it to persist in error out of a false sense of piety or respect.


Image by Christoph Wagener [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

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9 thoughts on “Chilean abuse victim’s respectful persistence holds Pope accountable”

    1. Yes, he is. Which makes his thoughtless earlier response on this matter (indeed, that’s a great understatement – I don’t know how we could call it anything but wicked and shameful) many, many times more serious and culpable than it would be if he were an ordinary joe like the rest of us. That’s the deal with high authority, and it’s why Hell has always been considered to contain a large complement of bishops. I can’t imagine Bishops of Rome are an exception to the rule.

      1. Yes, you are correct Anna.

        But in his humility, Pope Francis publicly admitted his error and asked forgiveness from those he hurt. And he is trying to correct his injustice by positive action. This is far more than lesser clerics, and most laypeople, would have done.

        God bless you and all here.

        1. I know – he kinda sorta apologized, which is better than not apologizing at all…

          On the other hand, the whole, “I was given bad information” excuse is blatantly false – except insofar as he’s chosen amoral flunkies as his advisors and ignored information from other, more credible and responsible sources. His entire papacy has made clear that he chooses as his confidants those who suck up to him and kowtow to his authoritarian power grabs. And we know with certainty that in fact, he had the information in hand – this is a proven, documented fact, that would hold up in any court in the world.

          Which makes this apology stink to me of the whole celebrity “I apologize if anybody was offended” fake apology crap.

          Yeah, I suppose it’s better than nothing. But one would certainly hope for better from the successor of Peter, no?

          1. Respectfully, Anna, I have to disagree. Pope Francis could have just ignored the whole thing. Except for the people who were affected, most of us probably would not have given it another thought, sadly, and that might have been the end of it.

            My take is that His Holiness was badly advised in the beginning, and he unfortunately chose to listen to what he was told. The victims patiently and politely persisted (which is a great credit to them – better than violent outrage). The Pope reexamined the issue and recognized he was fully wrong in his assessment and his actions and words. In humility, he very publicly has asked for forgiveness from the victims, has offered them his time and presence to listen to their story and to come to know them, and to do what he can to make amends and to be sure this never happens again.

            Popes are not perfect, not even those who became saints. It is very unusual for any of them to ask forgiveness for anything, especially so publicly. I cannot think of an example of any US president or other head of state who has done the same.

            I think it is commendable of Pope Francis to have so publicly admitted his error and done so much to make amends with the victims. I do not think it is likely he will make such a mistake again, and that he will give the benefit of the doubt to others until he can investigate such a claim again.

            Peace and all good to you – Susan, ofs

          2. Anna,
            I’ve never seen you all ruffled like this!

            You know what chaps *my* hide? For the life of me, I just can’t fathom it–Why why why are young adult men letting old guys feel them up, and worse? I just don’t get it. Don’t get it at all. I understand the gay part, but if a guy is going to go that route why the old, ugly pervert?

            It’s almost like we need to do a PSA at RE. Kind of like the “turn your cell phone off” jingle at the movie theater. (What are those guys thinking??)

            And we need to TALK to our kids at earlier and earlier ages.

            About 5 years ago when a lot of the ugly started spilling out, I asked my 14 y.o. what he would do if a priest tried to touch him there. He said, “I’d ninja kick him to the face.” Darn right.

            Unbelievable. People can yell at me all they want, but if you’re over 16, I think you should have to apologize for engaging in creepiness if you had a choice in the matter. Why should we have to be dragged through their smarmy swamp? (It’s like you or me, going to our parents and blaming them for letting a guy feel us up at the Church picnic!) I’m tired of the swan song that takes away the spotlight from children and human trafficking. Boys that are sex slaves have zero choice, but they get none of the media spotlight. They have no voice. The press doesn’t like those stories so much.

            I do hope they throw the book at the “catholic boys club” pervs in Chile. They made Pope Francis look foolish, and I don’t think he deserved it.

        2. Oh, and God bless you too – I appreciate your kind and conciliatory tone, even if I disagree with you about the moral character of this pope.

          1. Anna, just because we disagree, that does not make us enemies! I know that is the way it is in America these days, sadly. But that must stop, and it begins with me. We will never understand each other if we don’t stop to listen and give each other respect and dignity.

            As a Secular Franciscan and as a Catholic, I try my best to follow the example of Jesus and St. Francis (and fail miserably most of the time). But God does not expect us to be successful – He just expects us to keep trying!

            God’s very best blessings to you – Susan, ofs

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