VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Wednesday appointed a Chilean survivor of clerical sexual abuse to be part of a Vatican commission advising the pontiff on how to protect children from pedophile priests.
The Vatican has declared Juan Carlos Cruz to be the last member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Other panel members include a bishop, priests, nuns and lay experts.
Cruz and other survivors of a prominent Chilean predatory priest were invited by the Pope in 2018 to discuss their case with him.
Decades of sexual abuse scandals in many countries, including allegations that Church officials covered up the misdeeds of priests, have eroded the credibility of the Catholic Church among the faithful.
Cruz was the leading whistleblower of office abuse and cover-up in his home country, one of the most publicized sexual abuse scandals.
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He is a survivor of abuse by Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, a charismatic preacher who was defrocked by the Pope in 2018. The Vatican said Francis had inflicted this punishment for “the good of the Church”.
During Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, Karadima received a life sentence of penance and prayer for sexually abusing minors in a parish in Santiago, Chile.
Cruz helped lead the quest for justice for those who suffered abuse and for an overhaul of the Chilean ecclesial hierarchy.
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He said he told Francis how the bishops of Chile used Cruz’s sexual orientation to try to discredit him. Cruz, a homosexual, said he told the pontiff about the pain these personal attacks had caused him.
Francis’ precocious defense of one of Kardima’s proteges, Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, against accusations that he had witnessed and ignored Karadima’s abuses, outraged survivors and their supporters.
But Francis ultimately ordered a Vatican investigation that revealed decades of abuse and cover-up by Chilean church leaders. Francis apologized for having abused the survivors, inviting Cruz and two whistleblower colleagues to the Vatican for several days of discussions with him.
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That the Vatican can convince the faithful that it is genuinely committed to arresting pedophile priests and a widespread culture of cover-up by high-ranking clergy is crucial to building the declining confidence of ordinary Catholics.
In 2017, frustrated by what she called the Vatican wall, Irishwoman Marie Collins, who had been sexually abused by a priest as a teenager, quit her post at the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Collins was damning in her criticism of the Vatican offices, saying some officials had refused the pope’s instructions to respond to all correspondence from abuse survivors.
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Last year, a long-awaited Vatican report on Theodore McCarrick, an influential American cardinal defrocked by Francis after sexual abuse reports, made it clear that the Holy See must rethink how the Church protects the faithful from bishops and other hierarchies who exercise their functions. authority with often limited liability.
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