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ROME – Chilean abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz has said that a bishop’s ignorance of abuse or allegations against clergy in their diocese should no longer be enough to get them off the hook for negligence, which he says is one of the Church’s next battles in the fight for child protection.
When an abuse scandal explodes in the media and the local bishop apologizes, saying he didn’t know that the abuse was taking place, “it’s very hard for me to understand these empty, ‘pardon me’s,’ or ‘forgive me’s,” Cruz said, speaking to Crux.
His remarks come after retired Pope Benedict XVI earlier this week apologized for failures in handling abuse cases during his time as archbishop of Munich from 1977-1982, but he denied wrongdoing in four cases after being accused of coverup in a lengthy legal report on clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Munich spanning several decades.
In his response, Benedict said he was sorry for any “grave faults” he might have committed, but denied the allegations of coverup, saying he was unaware of abuse being committed by priests in three separate cases at the time he was making decisions about their assignments.
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Cruz, who is a survivor of abuse perpetrated by Chile’s most notorious abuser, ex-priest Fernando Karadima, and who is also member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, spoke of Benedict’s response to the Munich report and his claims that he was unaware of the abuse.
“We cannot hide behind that stupid argument,” Cruz said, saying this is an excuse that can no longer work and “It never should have worked, even when there were no protocols.”
“The abuse of anybody, sexual abuse or the abuse of conscience, is abuse and it was before the protocols and after the protocols, so if as a human being you don’t see something like that, I don’t know what you’re doing as a bishop,” he said.
Cruz said it is a “human right” not to be abused and being aware of what is happening is “just human decency.”
In Cruz’s view, a bishop’s ignorance of abuse being conducted a priest entering or moving around in their diocese is negligent, and ought to be prosecuted under Pope Francis’s 2016 motu proprio making it possible to prosecute bishops for negligence of office in abuse cases, Come una Madre Amorevole, or “Like a Loving Mother.”
“I feel that in the investigations of sexual abuse with priests, there’s this horrible culture of abuse and a culture of coverup that we cannot get rid of,” Cruz said. While he believes the Church has made “good strides” on confronting the culture of abuse, “this culture of coverup against bishops is still very alive and well.”
With the Church making progress on child protection efforts, Cruz said he believes the fight against coverup and the decision to no longer tolerate ignorance as an excuse is the next “frontier” in the fight against clerical abuse.
Noting that many dioceses around the world, most recently in Germany and France, are now commissioning in-depth inquiries into their past handling of abuse cases, Cruz said he believes the Church, rather than thinking the crisis is over, “should take this very seriously, like never before, and I think they should act on it.”
“Still, and I see it when I go to Rome or meet different people in other countries, the Church wants to keep this image of an immaculate organization where you go in an angels sing in your ears,” he said, saying this is a problem he believes is rooted in “the cancer” of clericalism.
“What is clericalism? It’s where bishops and priests are above everybody and we owe them the respect that they deserve and that God speaks through them only, and that we have to abide by their perception of what God is telling them,” Cruz said, saying this was the cause of his own abuse at the hands of Karadima, who used his authority as a spiritual director, saying his instructions came from God and had to be obeyed.
Cruz criticized priests who are preoccupied with what he believes to be petty disputes when their attention should be elsewhere, saying that during the coronavirus pandemic, “there were priests who couldn’t say Mass at the church and didn’t know what to do with their lives,” and others have been caught up in debate over Pope Francis’s decision to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass.
Rather than getting caught up in a “stupid controversy” such as this, Cruz said, the problem of abuse and coverup needs to be taken seriously, and as survivors, “we’re tired of saying this has to be taken seriously.”
He praised efforts Pope Francis has made and steps he has taken during his nearly 9-year pontificate, and pinned blame on bishops who say they are on board but fail to follow up or implement changes for slowing the process down.
“I have the blessing to be close to [Pope Francis] and know what he’s trying to do, and the man is trying…he does many, many things, and things happen. Maybe not all of the things we’d like to have happen,” Cruz said, but progress is being made.
As the Church continues its efforts to eradicate abuse, Cruz said, “we cannot forget vulnerable adults, who are as vulnerable as children in many ways,” and pointed to the abuse of seminarians by ex-priest and ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and scandals involving the abuse of nuns by priests and bishops.
The abuse of religious women, he said, “is horrific” and is “something that devastates me.” This too, he said, is “part of clericalism, this blind deference to authority. Many bishops, and priests, still expect that in many countries. That is unacceptable, it’s a cancer.”
Cruz said he has seen progress being made in recent years, but some places in the world are taking it “more seriously than others.”
“Undoubtably there is much more being done right now about the abuse crisis” than there was before, he said, saying it is a long process and some regions or countries are “more advanced than others.”
He noted that in some places that have been dealing with the abuse crisis for years or even decades, an “abuse fatigue” has set in, in which bishops say, “priests have already suffered so much, we’re in such a bad place, let’s tone it down a bit.”
This is an erroneous attitude, Cruz said, insisting that neither the clerical abuse of children, nor the abuse of vulnerable adults, will ever end “if we don’t take immediate and rapid action.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen