After apologizing for “grave errors” in the handling of a Chilean sex abuse scandal, Pope Francis will be welcoming three survivors to the Vatican in two weeks, according to survivor Juan Carlos Cruz.
Cruz says the Vatican reached out to him last Saturday, inviting the three Chileans to be the Pope’s guests from April 26 to May 1.
The survivors will spend time with Francis as a group on April 28 and 29, Cruz said, plus hold individual meetings with the Pope. He says he wants to make the meetings not just about them but all the survivors of church sex abuse worldwide.
“It’s about the thousands of survivors who have gone through horrible things who have been disrespected, discredited. That culture has to change,” Cruz said. “It has to be about every survivor. I hope that this is a sign that this will not be the norm.”
The Roman Catholic Church has been embroiled in a worldwide abuse scandal for more than three decades, with thousands of priests accused of sexually assaulting tens of thousands of children.
In a letter released Wednesday, Pope Francis said he made “grave errors” in handling the Chilean sex abuse scandal.
“At this very moment, I ask forgiveness to all those I have offended and I hope to personally do this as well in the next few weeks, in the meetings I will have with the representatives of the people interviewed,” he wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday.
The letter, to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Chile, follows a report the Pope received March 20 detailing interviews with 64 people affected by the scandal.
That investigation was launched after the Pope’s January trip to South America struck a controversial chord after he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse.
At his last stop in Chile, Francis defended Bishop Juan Barros, whom he had appointed in 2015 over the objections of residents of the southern city of Osorno. Accusers have said Barros covered up for the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of child sex abuse in 2011.
Francis angered some survivors’ groups and Chilean Catholics by telling reporters, “There is not a single proof against him, everything is slander.”
During a news conference on the papal plane back to Rome, the Pope admitted he had made an error in choosing his words and apologized to victims of clerical sex abuse.
“I apologize for hurting them without realizing it. But I did not intend this,” Francis said. “The word ‘proof’ was not the best way to approach a pained heart. I would say ‘evidence.’ In Barros’ case, it was studied. It was restudied. And there is no evidence. And that is what I wanted to say. I don’t have evidence to convict. If I convicted without evidence or without moral certainty, I would commit a crime of being a bad judge,” Francis said.
After the Pope returned to Rome, a Vatican investigator was dispatched to Chile in February to listen to Barros’ accusers.
Barros has denied knowing about what he called the “serious abuses” of Karadima and has said he never approved or participated in those actions.
But according to Juan Carlos Cruz, there was evidence against Barros, and the Vatican has known about it since 2015. Cruz wrote a letter that he says was hand-delivered to the Pope in Rome that year by one of his most trusted advisers, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. In February, Cruz shared the letter with CNN. In it, he details years of abuse – witnessed, he says, by Barros.
Marie Collins, a former member of the Pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, gave Cruz’s letter to O’Malley. Both Collins and Cruz say O’Malley told them he gave the Pope the letter.
The results of the Vatican’s investigation have not been released, including whether and how those responsible will be held accountable. But Cruz has hope the Pope will do the right thing.
“I would like those bishops to get fired. Not to be taken to a golden retreat,” Cruz told CNN. “Not to be given another job, like the Vatican library. If they covered up abuse they don’t deserve to be working as a bishop and running a diocese.”
Cruz says he and the other two survivors plan to hold a news conference at the Vatican after they meet with the Pope. Cruz says Vatican officials assured him his words would not be censored.
“I hope by doing this that there will be hope for other survivors that there will be change and accountability,” Cruz said.
CNN’s Delia Gallagher and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.