April 24, 2018 / 6:29 PM / 7 months ago

Chilean clerical sex abuse victim urges pope to fire 'toxic' bishops

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Chilean man who was sexually abused by a priest as a boy will urge Pope Francis to sack “toxic” bishops who covered up the assaults, he said on Tuesday ahead of a face-to-face meeting with the leader of the Catholic Church.

Chilean victim of clerical sexual abuse Juan Cruz speaks during an interview ahead of his meeting with Pope Francis, outside the Vatican in Rome, Italy, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Juan Carlos Cruz, who has become a symbol of the Church’s abuse crisis, will spend several days in the Vatican as a guest of the pope in the residence where he lives. Strong papal action in Chile would send a long-overdue message to the entire Church, he told Reuters in an interview.

“I would say ‘hold these bishops accountable, fire a few of them, if not many of them, but fire them and not give them a cushy job here at the Vatican,’” Cruz said.

“Like in a company (I would say) ‘you need to be preparing your resumé’. That’s what I would say to these bishops.”

Cruz and two other victims, Jimmy Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, are each due to spend several hours with the pope on a visit that follows an extraordinary April 11 letter in which Francis acknowledged he had made “grave mistakes” in handling the sexual abuse crisis in Chile. [nL1N1RO1L9]

In that letter, Francis said there had been a “lack of truthful and balanced information” about the situation in Chile. He invited the victims whose words he had once dismissed as “slander” to the Vatican to seek their forgiveness and ordered all of Chile’s bishops to a summit with him next month.

“I hope the Holy Father realizes that he is surrounded by some toxic people who need to leave ...,” Cruz said, adding that some Chilean bishops were “guilty of misinforming the pope”.

Cruz, who now lives in the United States, was a victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cruz and other victims have accused Bishop Juan Barros of the diocese of Osorno of having witnessed the abuse by Karadima, who was Barros’ mentor in Santiago.

Karadima, now 87 and still living in Chile, has always denied the allegations and Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

But Barros and other bishops were put under the spotlight in January when the pope sent one of the Vatican’s most experienced sexual abuse investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, to New York and Chile to talk to victims and bishops. [nL2N1QA0KW]

Scicluna produced a 2,300 report, which prompted the pope to call next month’s meeting.

Cruz said he hoped the pope would take decisive action in order to “send a message to the world that Chile is an example of what’s going to happen all over if this culture of abuse and cover up continues”.

He said he was confident that some good would come out of his meeting with the pope. Francis is due to have extended meetings with each of the three men individually over the weekend and then together on Monday.

“I told him, ‘Holy father, I do not want to be used as a PR exercise ...,’” he said. “Good or beautiful words or tears will not cut it. There has to be concrete action taken. There’s no more time left.”

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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