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Pope's advisers say he got abuse victim's letter, despite denial

Pope's advisers say he got abuse victim's letter, despite denial
From CBC - February 5, 2018

Pope Francis received a victim's letter in 2015 that graphically detailed sexual abuse at the hands of a priest and a coverup by Chilean church authorities, contradicting his recent insistence that no victims had come forward, the letter's author and members of Francis's own sex-abuse commission have told The Associated Press.

Francis received the eight-page letterobtained by AP. In the past, he has said he has "zero tolerance" for sex abuse and coverups. He has also stated empathy with abuse survivors during his five-year papacy.

The scandal exploded last month when Francis's trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defence of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of covering up the abuse by Rev. Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as "slander," seemingly unaware that victims had placed him at the scene of Karadima's crimes.

On the plane home, confronted by reporters, the Pope said: "You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I have not seen any, because they have not come forward."

But members of the Pope's Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the Pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he claimshe suffered at Karadima's hands, which he said Barros and others witnessed and ignored.

Four members of the commission met with Francis's top abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, explained their objections to Francis's recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.

"When we gave him [O'Malley]the letter for the Pope, he assured us he would give it to the Pope and speak of the concerns," then commission member Marie Collins told the Associated Press. "And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done."

Cruz, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, heard the same later that year.

"Cardinal O'Malley called me after the Pope's visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the Popein his hands," he said in an interview at his home Sunday.

Neither the Vatican nor O'Malley responded to multiple requests for comment.

While the 2015 summit of Francis's commission was known and publicized at the time, the contents of Cruz's letterand a photograph of Collins handing it to O'Malleywere not disclosed by members. Cruz provided the letter, and Collins provided the photo, after reading an Associated Pressstory that reported Francis had claimed to have never heard from any Karadima victims about Barros's behaviour.

The Barros affair first caused shockwavesin January 2015 when Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno, Chile, over the objections of the leadership of Chile's bishops' conference and many local priests and laity. They accepted as credible the testimony against Karadima, a prominent Chilean cleric who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for abusing minors. Barros was a Karadima protege, and according to Cruz and other victims, he witnessed the abuse and did nothing.

"Holy Father, I write you this letter because I am tired of fighting, of crying and suffering," Cruz wrote in Francis's native Spanish. "Our story is well known and there's no need to repeat it, except to tell you of the horror of having lived this abuse and how I wanted to kill myself."

Vatican's about-face

Cruz and other survivors had for years denounced the coverup of Karadima's crimes, but were dismissed as liars by the Chilean church hierarchy and the Vatican's own ambassador in Santiago, who refused their repeated requests to meet before and after Barros was appointed.

After Francis's comments backing the Chilean hierarchy caused such an outcry in Chile, he was forced last week to do an about-face: The Vatican announced it was sending in its most respected sex-crimes investigator to take testimony from Cruz and others about Barros.

In the letter to the Pope, Cruz begs for Francis to listen to him and make good on his pledge of "zero tolerance."

"Holy Father, it's bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse," he wrote.

Cruz goes on to detail in explicit terms the homo-eroticized nature of the circle of priests and young boys around Karadima, the charismatic preacher whose El Bosque community in the well-to-do Santiago neighbourhood of Providencia produced dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops, including Barros.

He described how Karadima would kiss Barros and fondle his genitals, and do the same with younger priests and teens, and how young priests and seminarians would fight to sit next to Karadima at the table to receive his affections.

"More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima's room and Juan Barrosif he was not kissing Karadimawould watch when Karadima would touch usthe minorsand make us kiss him, saying: 'Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.' He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue," Cruz told the Pope. "Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.

"Juan Barros covered up everything that I have told you," he added.

'I never knew anything'

Barros has repeatedly denied witnessing any abuse or covering it up.

"I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined, the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims," he told The Associated Pressrecently. "I have never approved of nor participated in such serious, dishonest acts, and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things."

'An unfavourable response'

'If anyone can give me evidence, I will be the first to listen.' - Pope Francis

'Discredited exile'

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