In the letter, seen by AP, Juan Carlos Cruz says he is a victim of cleric Fernando Karadima’s abuse in the 1980s, detailing the kissing and fondling he claims to have suffered.
Additionally, Cruz accuses Karadima’s fellow priest Juan Barros (whom Francis appointed to lead the Diocese of Osorno in 2015) of witnessing the horrific, humiliating abuse and ignoring it. Bishop Barros has repeatedly denied witnessing the abuse or covering it up.
Cruz alleged in his letter that Barros himself would be fondled by Karadima, once a prominent Chilean cleric who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for abusing minors and ordered to live a life of prayer and penance. He recalled how Karadima would kiss Barros and fondle his genitals, and then do the same with younger priests and boys. Cruz claimed that young priests and seminarians would fight to sit next to Karadima to be fondled as well.
“More difficult was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his [tongue] out and kiss us,” the letter to the pope said.
Cruz’s letter, written in the Pope’s native Spanish, is at odds with Pope Francis insisting that victims of Karadima’s crimes have never come forward to speak up about a cover-up by Bishop Barros.
“You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward,” Francis told an AP reporter on the plane to Rome last month.
“No one has come forward,” the pontiff stressed. “They haven’t provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague. It’s something that can’t be accepted.”
But according to members of the Pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, a delegation was sent to Rome in April 2015 in order to specifically hand-deliver a letter to the pontiff about Barros. Several members of the commission met with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Francis’ top abuse adviser, voicing their concerns about the pontiff’s appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.
“When we gave him [O’Malley] the letter for the pope, he assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns,” then-commission member Marie Collins said. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”
Francis has recently faced backlash over his appointment of Bishop Barros, saying he needed “proof” of wrongdoing by Barros while describing the allegations against him as “calumny.”
When asked about Bishop Barros by a Chilean reporter last month, the pope replied: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”
Francis’ response induced O’Malley to issue a statement saying that the pope’s words were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse,” adding that he had no clue why the Holy Father chose such dispiriting expressions to answer the reporter.
“What I do know, however, is that Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the Church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones,” he said.