ROME — In a handwritten letter by Pope Francis to a survivor of sexual abuse in a Catholic school in Spain that surfaced on Friday, the pontiff said he requested a Church trial against the teacher who allegedly committed the abuse eight years ago.
News of the letter will likely be seen as a sign of the pontiff’s personal involvement in the abuse issue, coming on the heels of a private meeting with five abuse survivors in Philadelphia during his visit to the United States.
The letter is dated Dec. 29, 2014, and is addressed to the father of a 20-year-old who claimed to have been abused between 2008 and 2010 by an official of his school, called Gaztelueta, which is located in Bilbao, Spain.
The institution is run by the Catholic group Opus Dei, typically seen as fairly conservative, and the alleged abuser is an Opus Dei member, technically known as a numerary.
In the letter made public by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Francis expressed closeness to the survivor and promised his prayers.
“The cross is too heavy,” he said, of the suffering imposed by sexual abuse.
Francis also wrote that he’s requested a Church trial against the teacher and the school, “but without disturbing the young man.”
Francis committed to sending the documentation presented to him by the parents to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department that deals with cases of clerical sexual abuse.
The family of the survivor filed a criminal complaint in Spanish courts in 2011, but after an investigation it was rejected for insufficient proof.
The teacher, who was suspended from the school for one year before the complaints were filed, reportedly traveled to England and didn’t return. At the time, however, he expressed his willingness to testify and claimed to be innocent.
In a press statement published on the school’s website on Friday, headmaster Imanol Goyarrola said that if any of the allegations made in the report from El Mundo, which gives a detailed explanation of the alleged regular abuses, such as improper touching, forced masturbation, and nudity, prove to be true, “they’d be fully condemned [by the school].”
Goyarrola also writes that the school hasn’t yet been informed of any investigation from the Vatican, but that “everything that comes from the Holy Father will be welcomed.”
The headmaster said he laments the family’s decision to sever all communication with the school, claiming that Gaztelueta collaborated with the civil investigations.
This is not the first time Pope Francis requested an expedited investigation into sexual abuse by clerics, or in this case, lay catholic teachers.
Last November, for instance, another letter sent to the pontiff by a college professor triggered the discovery of Spain’s largest clerical sex abuse scandal to date, leading to charges being filed against 10 priests.
The man, identified as Daniel, sent a letter to Francis in August. He got a phone call from the pope soon after, who asked him to come forward and take the case to civil authorities.
The news of Francis’ intervention in the Spanish case comes amid another scandal related to clerical sexual abuse in Chile, where two top Church officials have acknowledged conspiring to block an abuse survivor named Juan Carlos Cruz from being named to the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Cruz had been nominated by Irishwoman Marie Collins, one of the original eight members of the commission set up by Francis to advise him on efforts to combat sexual abuse inside and outside the Catholic Church.
Earlier in the week, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, now retired from the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile, admitted he had worked with his successor, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to block Cruz’s nomination.
The lobbying came to light when Chilean newspaper El Mostrador published a set of private e-mails between the two cardinals. In them, Errázuriz wrote that Cruz’s appointment would “be too grave for the Church of Chile. It’d mean, among other things, to give credit and support to a construction that Mr. Cruz has astutely constructed.”
Errázuriz is a member of the commission of nine cardinal advisors who guide the pope on reform of the Church’s governance.
Through an email dated June 28, 2014, Ezzati answered, saying, “I hope that you can shine a light among those who have responsibility over the appointment.”
Errázuriz confirmed having sent the emails while testifying before an Appeals Court over a civil lawsuit from Cruz and two other victims against the Chilean Church regarding an alleged cover up of the crimes committed by Rev. Fernando Karadima, a prominent Chilean priest found guilty of abuse by the Vatican in 2011 and sentenced to a “life of prayer and penance.”