Chilean sexual abuse victim testifies before Vatican investigator

By Alice Popavici
Chilean victim of clerical sexual abuse Juan Cruz speaks with media after meeting with investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta in New York City, New York, U.S., February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Alice Popavici

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The key witness in the case of a Chilean bishop accused of covering sexual abuse said on Saturday he gave "eye opening" testimony to a papally mandated investigator and hoped it would lead to the truth.

Juan Carlos Cruz met in a church on Manhattan's Upper West Side for about four hours with Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the most experienced and respected Vatican investigators of clergy sexual abuse.

"It's been a good experience and I leave here very hopeful today," he told reporters afterwards. "I feel that I was heard ... it was very intense and very detailed and very, sometimes, eye-opening for them."

"Hopefully it will lead to good things," he said.

The Vatican announced on Jan. 30 that Pope Francis had appointed Scicluna to look into accusations that Bishop Juan Barros of the diocese of Osorno in Chile had covered up crimes against minors.

It was a dramatic U-turn for the pope, who eight days earlier told reporters aboard his plane returning from Latin America he was sure Barros was innocent and that the Vatican had received no concrete evidence against him.

"For the first time I feel that someone is listening," said Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia and works for a large-multinational company in nearby Delaware.

"We'll see what the outcome is of all this, but I feel that Monsignor Scicluna is a very good man, and I think he was sincerely moved by what I was saying. He cried," Cruz said.

"He was hearing my testimony, and I was telling him about the abuse, about the cover up [and] the way survivors, not just me, are treated ... the personal toll it takes on someone. He was crying ... it wasn't an act ... I felt that he was concerned and that he was listening," Cruz said.

Scicluna declined to comment on the details of the testimony.


As a teenager, Cruz was sexually abused by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing him and other teenage boys over many years. Karadima always denied the allegations.

The Vatican ordered him to follow a life of prayer and penitence and banned him from public ministry, but he avoided criminal prosecution because under Chilean law too much time had elapsed since the offences. The 87-year-old still lives in Chile.

Cruz says Barros witnessed the abuse by Karadima, who was Barros' mentor years ago in a Santiago parish. Barros has always denied this and said he was unaware of any wrongdoing by Karadima, who had trained him to become a priest.

The Karadima case has gripped Chile for years and many Chileans protested the pope's decision to make Barros a bishop in 2015. It cast a long shadow over the pope's trip to Chile last month.

Scicluna will travel to Chile on Tuesday to continue his investigation of Barros there.

Cruz said he was "emotionally drained" but felt empathy from Scicluna and another priest from the Vatican's doctrinal office in Rome who also took part in the meeting.

During his visit to Chile last month, the pope testily told a Chilean reporter: "The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?"

He later apologized to victims, acknowledging that his choice of words and tone of voice had "wounded many."

Cruz said all victims deserved to be heard with the same respect and treatment he received from Scicluna.

"The pope needs to understand that is what survivors need. Cases don't have to come to the media for them to pay attention," he said.

(Writing by Philip Pullella)