VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Wednesday named a Chilean survivor of clergy sexual abuse to a Vatican commission advising the pontiff on how to protect children from pedophile priests.
The Vatican said that Juan Carlos Cruz is the last member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Other members of the panel include a bishop, priests, nuns, and lay experts.
Cruz and other survivors of a prominent Chilean predatory priest were invited by the Pope in 2018 to discuss their cases with him.
Decades of sexual abuse scandals in many countries, including allegations that church officials covered up the wrongdoings of priests, have eroded the credibility of the Catholic Church among the faithful.
Cruz was the leading whistleblower for clergy abuse and cover-ups in his homeland, one of the most notorious sexual abuse scandals.
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He is a survivor of abuse by Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, a charismatic preacher who was expelled by the Pope in 2018. The Vatican said Francis inflicted that punishment for “the good of the church.”
During the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, Karadima was sanctioned with a life of penance and prayer for having sexually abused minors in a parish in Santiago de Chile.
Cruz helped spearhead the search for justice for those who suffered abuse and for a reform of the Chilean church hierarchy.
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He said he told Francisco how the Chilean bishops used Cruz’s sexual orientation to try to discredit him. Cruz, a gay man, said he told the pontiff about the pain those personal attacks caused him.
Francisco’s initial defense of one of Kardima’s protégés, Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, against allegations that he had witnessed and ignored Karadima’s abuse, outraged survivors and their supporters.
But Francis ultimately ordered a Vatican investigation that uncovered decades of abuse and cover-ups by Chilean church leaders. Francisco apologized for abusing the survivors and invited Cruz and two fellow whistleblowers to the Vatican to chat with him for several days.
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Whether the Vatican can convince the faithful that it is sincerely committed to stopping pedophile priests and a pervasive culture of cover-ups by high-ranking clergy is crucial in propping up the decaying confidence of ordinary Catholics.
In 2017, frustrated by what she described as Vatican evasion, an Irish woman, Marie Collins, who was sexually abused by a priest as a teenager, resigned her position on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Collins was condemning in her criticism of the Vatican offices, saying some officials rejected the pope’s instructions to respond to all correspondence from abuse survivors.
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Last year, a long-awaited Vatican report on Theodore McCarrick, an influential American cardinal ousted by Francis after reports of sexual abuse, made clear that the Holy See needs to rethink how the Church protects the faithful from bishops and other hierarchies. who exercise authority with little accountability.