As It Happens

Why this Chilean abuse survivor refuses to accept Pope Francis' apology

Pope Francis apologized Tuesday to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by priests, but survivor Juan Carlos Cruz says his words are just "empty headlines."
In this March 12, 2015 photo, Juan Carlos Cruz poses for a portrait in Wilmington, Delaware. Cruz says he can't accept the Pope's apology until those who protected his abuser are brought to justice. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

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Pope Francis apologized Tuesday to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by priests for the "irreparable damage" they suffered — but survivor Juan Carlos Cruz says his words are just "empty headlines."

"They never come with concrete actions, which is what we would expect," Cruz told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I'm not a vengeful person. I tend to forgive everybody. But the pain is so big that he continues to allow to be inflicted on survivors."

Cruz is not alone. Francis dove head-first into Chile's sex abuse scandal on his first full day in Santiago that came amid unprecedented opposition to his visit.

Police detain a protester dressed as a priest as Pope Francis arrives in Santiago, Chile, on Monday. (Carlos Vera/Reuters)

Massive protests have erupted on the streets of Santiago, and three churches were torched overnight, including one that was burned to the ground.

Chile's most infamous priest 

At the heart of the protest is Cruz's abuser, the disgraced Rev. Fernando Karadima, and those accused of helping him cover his tracks. 

Cruz and other victims first went public with their accusations against Karadima in 2010 after complaining for years to church authorities the powerful and well-connected priest had kissed and fondled them when they were teenagers.

Chilean prosecutors investigated Karadima, but dropped the charges because the statute of limitations had expired. The judge handling the case stressed that it didn't collapse for lack of proof.

The Vatican found Fernando Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors and sentenced him to a life of 'penance and prayer.' (Vladimir Rodas/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2011, the Vatican found him guilty of sexually molesting minors, barred him from all pastoral duties and sentenced him to a lifetime of "penance and prayer."

"We call it a golden retreat," Cruz said. "They remove them. They put them in some home with all the comforts that you would expect and someone serving them. But they can't do public ministry."

Karadima's ​protégé

Many Chileans are also furious over Francis' decision in 2015 to appoint a Karadima protégé as bishop of the southern city of Osorno.

Bishop Juan Barros has denied knowing about Karadima's abuse — but many Chileans don't believe him, and his appointment has badly split the diocese.

Cruz alleges Barros not only knew about the abuse he and his peers suffered at the hands of Karadima, but that he was actually in the room when it happened.

Bishop Juan Barros is pictured here flanked by protesters at the Osorno cathedral on March 21, 2015. He is accused of covering up for one of the nation's most notorious child molesters. (Carlos Gutierrez/Reuters)

"He was right there watching while we were all being abused," Cruz said. "I mean, what are you supposed to think when all these people that should be punished are rewarded?"

Francis has defended Barros, saying the Osorno opposition to him was "stupid," unfounded and coming from the left.

Barros attended a Mass celebrated by Francis on Tuesday in Santiago. Upon exciting, Barros told local media: "Many lies have been made about me."

He again said he did not witness any abuse by Karadima.

The battle continues

Cruz — along with fellow survivors James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo — continue to fight for Barros and his underlings to be brought to justice.

The trio have launched a civil lawsuit against the church, seeking an apology and damages of $600,000 US ($744,000 Cdn). Their next hearing is set for March.

Pope Francis faces unprecedented protest and opposition on his tour of Chile. (Claudio Reyes/AFP/Getty Images)

"We can only imagine how many people were abused," Cruz said, noting that many have remained silent or taken their own lives.

"We do it for them," he said, "because we want them to have a voice as well."

— With files from Associated Press