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Former seminarian: meeting with Vatican abuse investigator was ‘intense’

Juan Carlos Cruz speaks to reporters after meeting Archbishop Charles Scicluna (CNS photo/Eduardo Munoz, Reuters)

A former Chilean seminarian who accused a current bishop of abuse cover-up met with a Vatican investigator and said he finally felt he had been heard.

Juan Carlos Cruz met for nearly four hours on February 17 with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a longtime expert on clergy sex abuse. Cruz, who currently lives and works in Philadelphia, said that this is the first time he felt church officials had listened to how, as a seminarian, he was sexually abused by Fr Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest. Cruz maintains that now-Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, witnessed some of the abuse.

In a statement to reporters outside of Manhattan’s Church of the Holy Name of Jesus February 17, Cruz called his meeting “a good experience,” one he described as emotional and at times “very intense and very detailed.” He also said he thought it was “eye-opening” for the archbishop.

“I leave here very hopeful today,” Cruz told reporters after the meeting. He called Archbishop Scicluna “a very good man, and I think he was sincerely moved by what I was saying. He cried.”

Cruz said he gave the archbishop names of people he believes have taken part in concealing abuse by Fr Karadima as well as the names of other victims of the priest.

In 2011, the Vatican ordered Fr Karadima, then 80, to “retire to a life of prayer and penitence” for sexually abusing minors and forbade him from exercising public ministry. Fr Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

At the time, Cruz welcomed the move but expressed frustration that no one listened to the accusations when they were first made in 2005. The ecclesiastical investigation began in 2010.

Fr Karadima had been then-Fr Barros’s mentor.

In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno. Some 3,000 demonstrators gathered outside and inside the Osorno cathedral to protest his installation as bishop.

After the case was investigated twice, Pope Francis said he was “personally convinced” Bishop Barros was telling the truth when he insisted he had no knowledge of Fr Karadima’s history of abusing minors.

During his January trip to Chile, Pope Francis was asked by reporters about the accusations of cover-up levelled against Bishop Barros and how he could be named to head a diocese.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?” Pope Francis said.

The Pope later apologised for the remark and, soon after returning to Rome, appointed Archbishop Scicluna to conduct a new investigation; he flew to Chile after interviewing Cruz in New York. Archbishop Scicluna is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

The Vatican said the Pope’s decision to have the archbishop investigate the alleged cover-up was prompted by “recently received information” in the case of Bishop Barros.

Less than a week after the Vatican announced Pope Francis’s appointment of Archbishop Scicluna, Cruz gave the Associated Press a copy of a letter he had given to the pope and which he maintains Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, hand-delivered to the pontiff in 2015. Cruz’s eight-page letter graphically described the abuse he suffered and said that then-Fr Barros was in the room watching when some of the incidents occurred.