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INTERVIEW: Juan Carlos Cruz, Key Figure to Undertake the Path of Renewal in the Church in Chile

“My Faith Is Important. Mary Has Taken Care of Me the Whole Time”

Juan Carlos Cruz was the first of the three people to denounce sexual abuses on the part of a priest in Chile —  concretely, those that occurred in the decade of the 80s by the then priest Fernando Karadima, of “El Bosque” parish in Santiago.

Pope Francis met with him when he travelled to Chile in January of 2018, and during the return flight to Rome, he asked forgiveness from “all those that he offended” for having underestimated the accusation against Bishop Juan Barros for lack of “proof.” Previously, the Bishop of Osorno had been accused of knowing about his friend and mentor, Fernando Karadima’s sexual abuse, while he was a seminarian.

On the papal flight, the Pope clarified: “”I answered a question of a journalist in Iquique about Bishop Barros. I used the term “proof” and said: ‘The day I have proof, I’ll speak.’ Unfortunately, I know that many people that are abused can’t show evidence, they don’t have it or can’t have it, or if they do, they are ashamed . . . I have to apologize because the word “proof” hurt me, my expression wasn’t appropriate. I offer my apologies if I caused harm without realizing it, without meaning to, it hurts me very much . . . That’s why I don’t want to use the term “proofs.”

“Doctors of the Soul”

Juan Carlos Cruz’s testimony opened the Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church, convoked by Pope Francis, and held from February 21-24, 2019, with the participation of 190 representatives of the Church in all the continents.

“You are the doctors of souls and yet, with exceptions, in some cases you have become the murderers of souls, the murderers of the Faith,” were Cruz’s words addressed to the Priests and Religious in his testimony, projected on a wide screen, in the Synod’s New Hall, where they met during those days.

Juan Carlos Cruz is well known in the Vatican. Archbishop Scicluna had contacted him two weeks before the start of the Meeting to invite him, on behalf of the Holy Father, to come to Rome. Moreover, the Chilean journalist, now a resident in the United States, has a great friendship with Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and great knower of the problems of sexual abuses in the Church, and with Jordi Bertomeu, the Catalan priest who stays in the shadow writing crucial reports for the Holy Father, and visiting the victims together with Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, recently appointed Assistant Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Chilean believer reaffirms himself in hope: “I have expectations, but everything doesn’t change from one day to another. I don’t know if you or I will see the results.”

“We want a renewed Church, we want this Church to rise again and be again what she was, that she be a Church free of the scourge of abuses and of the cover-up culture,” says Juan Carlos Cruz. “If they aren’t going to do that, let them go, because there is no place <for them> now, and this is like a snowball. The Chilean model has been impressive in succeeding to get other countries to explore this also, as is happening in Spain and what’s going to happen in many other countries: in Costa Rica, in Peru and in other” places.

In Search of a New Life

In the beginning, Cruz did not speak about his bad experience. “I had this horror in some part of my body, and  I kept it there, in a drawer. Suddenly it would come out and I felt badly, or I suddenly became depressed, and I didn’t understand why.”

“I lived with depression. I tried to commit suicide at 20, letting myself die after an operation, and not recover, wanting to die.”

Now he is Vice-President of the multinational “Global Fortune,” one of the best 150 companies in the United States of America. He lives in Philadelphia and has been able to leave behind the ghosts of the one who one day was a priest: Fernando Karadima, removed from the priestly ministry by Pope Francis.

The year 2010 was the year that meant for Cruz “the end of innocence,” affirmation that gave the title to his book, his personal testimony. (Debate, 2014).

James Hamilton, a childhood friend, at present a doctor, married and with children, contacted other survivors of the priest’s abuse, among them, Juan Carlos Cruz. Thanks to this proposal, with the important support of lawyer Hermosilla, the three friends — Cruz, Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo — made a statement that year before a civil attorney.

Checkmate Karadinma

“I had made my castle in the United States. I made my life there, I escaped over there and I wanted nothing to do with this.” I said: “We won’t be able to hunt this guy in any way, because he’s a friend of Pinochet, a friend of the evil Sodano, friend of all the powerful.”

Fernando Karadima was a very influential priest in Chilean society, with important political, civilian and religious contacts in the country during the period of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

In 2011, the Vatican declared Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors, on occasions with force. He was sentenced to a life of penance and prayer, and was prohibited from having contact with former faithful or to carry out any ecclesiastical ceremonies publicly. Pope Francis expelled him from the priesthood officially on September 28, 2018.

Cardinal Errazuriz

“To continue the story, we went to the Church, Cardinal Errazuriz  — removed from the Pope’s Council of Advisers in December 2018 — did absolutely nothing.” No one believed us. Cardinal Errazuriz came to poison Pope Francis, he said that  we were liars . . . and, of course, Pope Francis trusted him, but he was being deceived. This was an 8-year fight,” recalls Cruz.

After the controversy unleashed by the case of Bishop Juan Barros (also denounced by Juan Carlos Cruz), sentenced to retire to a monastery for a life of “prayer and penance,” without any pastoral mission, the Pope asked forgiveness from the victims of abuses and from people who were offended by the comments regarding Barros’ supposed innocence, not having “proof.”

“Healing” Friendship with the Pope

Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu went to interview Juan Carlos Cruz in New York, after questioning others in Chile. They told him he was the main witness and that he could testify on Skype. “After speaking with Scicluna and after speaking with Bertomeu, I realized they were good men and that they wanted the truth so that something would change. Then I had a press conference after that meeting, because I thought I had to send a message to Chile, as the people believe me, I must take advantage of that and say ‘yes,’ I must trust these people, and some 70 people testified. A 2,300-page Report was written, where the whole truth was set out, not only of Juan Barros , but of all these Bishops.”

After this, the Pope invited Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo to the Vatican.  After the publication of the Pope’s Letter to the Chilean people, in May 2018 Cruz travelled to Rome, where he was received by Pope Francis himself. “I came to Rome, I talked with him, and true friendship emerged there, which has been saving and healing for me.”

Previously, the survivor of Karadima’s abuses had met several times with the Pope. The first was in Chile, during an Apostolic Journey (January 2, 2018), who remained marked by the pain and mistrust of the Church. Those days the media of the whole world were on the streets of Santiago, with a great absence of faithful in the capital of Chile.

“My Faith Is Tremendously Important for Me”

The Chilean declares himself openly Catholic. In fact, his message is clear: “I think the Pope has done the Church in Chile much good, because truth be told, we had some Bishops who were real criminals, and we still have them, but I believe that the Pope is now looking for ideal people to continue changing, and to continue doing the radical changes in Chile which will do much good.”

“My faith is tremendously important for me. It’s where I place my heart. I wouldn’t be talking here with you if it wasn’t <for the fact> that today I have faith. Mary’s image has been very sustaining for me. Mary has taken care of me the whole time. In the moments when I was saddest and most alone, She was with me.”

“They have called me everything: enemy of the Church, but I’ve kept strong thanks to my faith, and because I know many priests and women religious and lay men and women who believe in the Church, and that I know aren’t bad, as, unfortunately, others are.”

“What we have had for years in Chile are Bishops who were liars, who hid things, who destroyed documents, who sold a false reality of Chile.” Juan Carlos Cruz lived the whole process with his friends, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, thanks to the work and support of lawyer Juan Pablo Hermosilla, who was the one who “really changed our life, because he armed us with courage, he helped us and for free. He has been wonderful in my life,” said Cruz.

Prevention of Abuses

This was one of the main subjects addressed by the world summit held in Rome, to combat the problem of abuses in the Church. The Chilean survivor opines that first of all “there must be solid protocols and be cautious in executing them.”

“We must be vigilant, be renewing, we must be extra concerned. Then a time will come that we must wait for, for the situation to normalize itself, but at this moment we must be very vigilant.”

“Foundation For Trust”

It has helped Juan Carlos Cruz a lot to share his testimony “because, as a Catholic, I want this problem to be solved, but I can’t fault other victims who are absolutely hurt, who are absolutely furious because of all that has happened, people have been treated very badly here,” he adds.

“Bishops who have denied, who traumatized several times various victims calling them liars. Treating them as they have me, as an enemy of the Church, as if I’m lying here and there,” stresses the journalist.

Therefore, Juan Carlos Cruz together with his two friends, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton — also survivors of abuses in Chile — and lawyer Juan Pablo Hermosilla created eight years ago the “Foundation for Trust.”

The Foundation’s mission is to fight against child sexual abuse through the direction and accompaniment of persons who have been victims of sexual abuse in their childhood, and the generation of tools and strategies of prevention, especially in educational contexts and those that work with and girls and young people.

The Foundation “is a reference in Chile,” points out Cruz. Jose Andres Murillo, the current Director, is invited to give talks of prevention; we have mutual help groups; we have social assistants, but what we have above all is a lot of very good people — lawyers, social assistants, psychologists who want to work with us, so we have been able to help a lot of victims.

False Accusations

“Here our lawyer,, whom we love as a brother, has been key. He is also Director of Formation; his name is Juan Pablo Hermosilla. He’s a guy who has helped us, he has contained us and he has made us see that after a tragedy one can live well, be happy and help, and draw good things out of such a tragedy.”

Reviewing the studies of other Foundations, with his own experience, Juan Carlos Cruz says that “it’s very rare that a victim makes a false accusation, which can happen, but it’s extremely rare.” “It’s very rare that someone should talk of something horrible he has lived and that it’s false,” explains Cruz. ”Because the shame is horrible, the harm is tremendous that might have happened, that perhaps happens, but it does pass, but the truth is much more and the cases of false accusations are absolutely strange and unique.”

About Rosa Die Alcolea

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