MEXICO CITY – Experts can talk about the crisis of sex abuse in the Catholic Church through research, statistics and psychological terminology, but in the end, as Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz reminded a major summit in Mexico City this week, any discussion destined to change hearts and minds needs to put a face on the problem as well as a heart behind it.

Several big names were in attendance at the Pontifical University of Mexico this week for a Latin American conference on sex abuse sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center of Investigation and Formation for the Protection of Minors (CEPROME).

They included Maltese archbishop Charles Scicluna, a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, Director for the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University; Chicago Cardinal Blasé Cupich; and Colombian Bishop Luis Manuel Ali Herrera, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

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Their concern was palpable, and there were several passionate moments during otherwise academic talks. Yet giving voice to the people most affected, the victims, fell almost completely to Cruz. He brought personal experience in spades, sometimes being moved to tears in front of a rapt audience.

“I am here talking about being a survivor because I dare to be here, but there are thousands of survivors that nobody knows about who are suffering in silence,” he said. “I feel the responsibility of representing all those who have suffered abuse, not only in the Church but in their families.”

He thanked the other speakers for having clearly thought and worried about this important topic. He said that even though they spoke with an academic sensibility, he was impressed by how they behave with those who have lived through the horror of abuse.

Although Ali Herrera had asserted that the Church in Latin America has not even begun the process of reforming the Church, Cruz was more positive and bullish in his analysis.

“It’s impressive to see that there’s a lot happening,” Cruz said. “There has been a change in Latin America and the whole world. Before, when you said you had been abused by a priest, they destroyed you, but it’s not that way now.”

He said that his mother reminded him to remember where he had been and where he was now, suggesting the same might be said of the Church.

However, Cruz is not blind to the work still to be done, and he spoke about the serious struggle he had with depression. He joked that some of his critics call him crazy, but that he actually feels very well. His experience of being called names and having horrible things said about him, he said, has left an impression and shattered any possible naiveté.

Cruz spoke directly to victims who are still lost and unable to come forward, telling them they’re not alone.

He said he desperately wants victims to find peace and happiness that they deserve, but most of all he wants victims to be prioritized and not shunted to the side. The crisis is not drawing to a close, he said, insisting that the hierarchy and everyone in the Church must continue to work towards seeing the reality.

When asked during the Q&A if he has forgiven his abuser, former Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, Cruz said that for a long time, he wasn’t sure if he would be able. However, tearing up, he said: “I forgive him. I couldn’t be talking about what I am talking about if I did not live what I preach. It is hard. And I ask God to help him acknowledge what he has done.”

“Personally, I hope he reconciles with the Lord,” Cruz said. “But at this moment of my life, I say ‘I forgive you’ because I have much more important things to focus on.”

Cruz added that being Catholic remains essential to his self-understanding.

“I am Catholic,” he said. “I have remained a Catholic even though there have been moments where I said, ‘Enough!’ Who can believe they would treat me like this? But I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my faith.”

He was emphatic that he has no plans to leave the Church, though some have suggested he should.

“Many times they told me that I am the enemy of the Church for criticizing the bishops, but I don’t believe it,” Cruz said. “I decided when I started on this road that I wouldn’t be pushed out. Bishops and cardinals said horrible things about me, but early on I said that they can’t take my faith … nor can they take my desire to heal this Church.”

“Many times, I asked myself where was God when this was happening to me,” Cruz said. “If it hadn’t been for the will of Mary and the love of God, I wouldn’t be here.”

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