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.”
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 (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons