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Pope taps Chilean sex abuse whistleblower for Vatican panel

UPDATED: Wed., March 24, 2021

By Frances D'Emilio Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday named a Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse to serve on a Vatican commission that advises the pontiff on how to protect children from pedophile priests.

The Vatican said Juan Carlos Cruz is the latest 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 predator priest were invited by the pope in 2018 to discuss their cases with him.

Decades of sex abuse scandals in many countries, including allegations that church officials covered up the wrongdoing of priests, have eroded the Catholic Church’s credibility among the faithful.

Cruz was the main whistleblower on clerical abuse and coverup in his homeland, one of the more high-profile sex abuse scandals.

He is a survivor of abuse by Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, a charismatic preacher who was defrocked 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 to a lifetime of penance and prayer for having sexually abused minors in a Santiago, Chile, parish.

Cruz helped spearhead the quest for justice for those who suffered abuse and for an overhaul of the Chilean church hierarchy.

He has said he recounted to Francis how Chile’s bishops used Cruz’s sexual orientation to try to discredit him. Cruz, a gay man, said he told the pontiff of the pain those personal attacks caused him.

Francis’ early defense of one of Kardima’s proteges, Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, against accusations that he had witnessed Karadima’s abuse and ignored it, outraged survivors and their supporters.

But Francis ultimately ordered a Vatican investigation that uncovered decades of abuse and cover-ups by the Chilean church leadership. Francis apologized to abuse survivors, inviting Cruz and two fellow whistle-blowers to the Vatican for several days of talks with him.

Whether the Vatican can convince the faithful it is sincerely committed to stopping pedophile priests and a widespread culture of coverups by high-ranking clergy is crucial to shoring up the flagging trust of ordinary Catholics.

In 2017, frustrated by what she described as Vatican stonewalling, an Irish woman, Marie Collins, who was sexually abused by a priest when she was an adolescent, quit her position on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Collins was damning in her criticism of Vatican offices, saying some officials refused the pope’s instructions to reply to all correspondence from abuse survivors.

Last year, a long-awaited Vatican report about Theodore McCarrick, an influential U.S. cardinal defrocked by Francis after sex abuse reports, made it plain that the Holy See needs to re-think how the church protects the faithful from bishops and other hierarchy who wield authority with often scarce accountability.

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