CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 26 May 2018

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Survivors hopeful for an end to culture of abuse after meeting the pope

VATICAN CITY (CNS): After private meetings with Pope Francis, three survivors of clergy sexual abuse from Chile, Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, said they felt they had been heard and were hopeful for changes in the way the Catholic Church handles accusations of abuse.
 
“I spoke for more than two-and-a-half hours alone with Pope Francis. He listened to me with great respect, affection and closeness, like a father. We talked about many subjects. Today, I have more hope in the future of our church. Even though the task is enormous,” Cruz tweeted after meeting with the pope on April 29 .
 
The pope had invited the three to stay at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican residence where he lives, and to meet with him individually April 27 to 29. The three were scheduled to meet with the him again as a group on April 30.
 
Although the three survivors sent Twitter messages after their private meetings, Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said  that Pope Francis “expressly wished” that no official statements be released by the Vatican regarding his discussions with them.
 
“His priority is to listen to the victims, ask their forgiveness and respect the confidentiality of these talks,” Burke said in a statement on April 27. 
 
“In this climate of trust and reparation for suffering, the desire of Pope Francis is to allow his guests to speak as long as necessary, in a way that there is no set timetable or pre-established content,” he said.
 
In a tweet sent after his April 27 meeting, Murillo said he spoke with Pope Francis for two hours and that “in a respectful and frank way, I expressed the importance of understanding abuse as an abuse of power, of the need to assume responsibility, of care and not just forgiveness.”
 
Hamilton sent two tweets on April 28 shortly after his meeting with the pope, saying that it lasted a “little over two hours” and that it was “sincere, welcoming and enormously constructive.”
 
He said “I am very happy and satisfied.” The Chilean survivors have alleged that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno—then Father Barros—had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
 
During his visit to Chile in January, the pope sparked controversy when he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.”
 
He later apologised to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.
 
A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and an aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.
 
Not all of the 64 witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers’ school.
 
Burke said on April 25 that  the pope called for prayers for the Church in Chile and hoped the meetings would be “a crucial step to repair and forever avoid the abuses of conscience, power and especially sexual (abuse) in the heart of the Church.”
 
In an interview on April 25, Cruz said that there is still much to be done in the fight against clergy sexual abuse, because the attempts at reform have failed to address a pervasive culture that treats historical abuses as “something that happened that’s already in recovery” when in reality it is “an open wound that keeps getting deeper.”
 
He said, “I think we need to attack the problem head-on, directly and deal with that.” 
 
Cruz said that while there are good people on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, it was “pretty shameful” that the it has accomplished little in helping survivors.
 
After receiving more than 2,300 pages of documentation from Archbishop Scicluna, Pope Francis acknowledged he had made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”
 
The pope said he was convening a meeting in Rome with the Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions “without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives.”
 
Cruz said he hopes Pope Francis bishops who covered up abuse, rather than punish them, accountable. They should be replaced with good people because “the people in Chile have been pretty scandalised” by the behavior of several members of the Church hierarchy, he said.
 
“I hope too that this—what’s happening in Chile—sends a (message) to the universal Church that this behavior will not be tolerated anymore,” Cruz said.

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