ROME – For survivors of clerical sexual abuse in Chile, much about the Church’s response from Pope Francis and others in the hierarchy strikes them as too slow, too ambiguous, and too little. They say a recent case in which the pontiff acted with more of an iron fist, however, offered a glimmer of hope.
“I can say that this is a small door of hope for victims and survivors who still haven’t been able to recognize their pain, who cannot speak or even comprehend the suffering they were put through,” said Abel Soto, a man who was abused by former Archbishop Francisco Cox of Chile, who was expelled from the priesthood by Francis last week.
“It’s a historic blow that he’s removed from the clerical state these two monsters, which is, as far as I know, unheard of,” he told Crux.
On Saturday, not long after meeting with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, the Vatican announced that Francis had removed from the clerical state not only Cox, who faces allegations of abusing children dating back to the 1970s both in Chile and in Germany, but also Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez, who retired from his position as Bishop of Iquique in 2012 at the age of 47.
In the last month, Francis imposed the same penalty on two former Chilean priests, Fernando Karadima and Cristian Precht, both of whom had been found guilty of abuse in the early 2010s. Yet they had remained in the priesthood, the first living a life of penitence and prayer, the second suspended for five years and returned to the priesthood last year.
The allegations against all four men were well known and date back several years, which is why some believe Francis in these cases went for the “low-hanging fruit.” They point to figures such as Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who’s been subpoenaed by the prosecutor’s office for cover-up but remains head of the Archdiocese of Santiago, the country’s capital.
Yet Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima and who was welcomed by Francis earlier this year, told Crux that the pontiff had to start with the low-hanging fruit, but this is not the end of the road.
“For the pope, it must be exhausting and an enormous distraction,” he said. “But if he doesn’t resolve the problem in a radical way, we’re never going to get out of this [crisis].”
Cruz said that he’s “very thankful” to Francis for what he’s done so far, including accepting the resignations of seven Chilean bishops who are suspected of either covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse or of having sexually abused minors themselves.
“Obviously, as a survivor, I would like for this process to be faster,” he said. “But having seen how the Vatican moves and all the many opposing forces, I see that what the pontiff is doing is not easy, and for that I am truly thankful.”
The survivor, who today lives and works in the United States, also said that what happened in Chile, with the pope sending two representatives to the country to investigate is a “snowball,” both in Chile and globally. He expects to see several other bishops removed, beyond Ezzati, in the relatively near future.
When it comes to Chile, Cruz said, there’s “much still to be done,” but “when you think where we were in January, there’s been an important change.”
Back in January, when Francis visited Chile, he accused survivors such as Cruz, who for over three years protested the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno, of “calumny.”
Civil authorities are also pressing the cause, currently investigating allegations against over 200 priests and eight bishops.
Cruz said that if he could, he would ask the pope to continue down the path he’s walking, but not to be afraid to go faster. He would also advise Francis not to be afraid of “forces” that use survivors to their own benefit.
Later in the conversation, Cruz acknowledged he was referring to Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal representative in the U.S. who recently accused Francis of lifting secret restrictions against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick imposed by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.
“Viganò was nuncio in the United States,” Cruz said. “Can you explain to me what he did to stop the maelstrom and horror of the abuses?”
“What did he do? Nothing. And now he claims to be interested in the victims because it serves his agenda … no thank you.”
On Ezzati, Cruz echoed something Francis recently told a Chilean pilgrim in St. Peter’s Square: he hasn’t found the right person for the job.
“I have learned that Ezzati has begged to be removed” because he has to prepare his legal defense, but he will have to “confront Chilean justice for everything that he’s been charged for and for what’s coming. But the Vatican cannot find a person to replace him, because [Francis] doesn’t trust anyone, which is why he’s put apostolic administrators” to replace the seven bishops whose resignations he’s accepted.
Cruz also said that despite the fact that some say he’s drunk Francis’s “Kool-Aid,” he’s “tremendously independent, and I say what I feel and see. And I see that there are still thousands of people who have no justice and who must find it.”
“That’s why I tell the pope to continue doing what he’s doing, and to believe the victims,” Cruz said. “Not as a witch hunt, but with due process.”