Sexual abuse victims call for Vatican to crack down on Chilean cardinals

Vatican City (AFP) –


Three victims of a Chilean paedophile priest on Wednesday demanded the Catholic Church force tougher sanctions on complicit cardinals after meeting Pope Francis.

The calls by Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo come a day after Australian authorities ordered the trial of the Vatican's finance chief over alleged abuse of boys dating back four decades.

Guests of Pope Francis since Friday, the trio blasted "criminal" Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, a key advisor to the pontiff who is accused of ignoring and helping to cover up sexual abuse carried out by paedophile priest Fernando Karadima in Chile in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to Cruz, during their meetings over several days the pope was "contrite" and told the victims he had been "part of the problem".

Karadima was forced into retirement in 2011 after being found by the Holy See to have been a serial abuser of minors.

"He (Errazuriz) is a real criminal, a man covering up the vile acts of Karadima," said Hamilton at a press conference held by the trio at the Vatican on Wednesday. "I'd like to throw them all (the Chilean cardinals) in jail."

Errazuriz is one of a cadre of nine cardinals nicknamed the C9 charged by the Pope to reform the Holy See's government.

- Shockwaves -

The C9 is led by Australian Cardinal George Pell, who became the most senior church figure ever to be sent to trial over historic sex offences after a hearing in Melbourne that forced him to face "multiple" charges.

Pell, 76, is the Vatican's number three and heads the Vatican's Secretariat of the Economy. He pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday.

He left the Vatican for his home country in June last year to face the accusations.

The departure of one of the pope's closest associates sent shock waves through the Vatican, which has already faced strong criticism for its perceived lack of decisiveness in cases of this sort.

Four months earlier, Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins had abandoned her role on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by Francis, slamming a "shameful" lack of cooperation on the issue from the Curia and church officials.

- 'Part of the problem' -

Francis hosted Cruz, Hamilton and Murillo at his Vatican residence after back-tracking on his public support and defence of Bishop Juan Barros -- also accused of covering up Karadima's abuse -- during a trip to Chile in January.

The visit turned into a media fiasco after Francis said that he was convinced of Barros' innocence and demanded "proof" of abuse before he would speak out against him.

He later had to apologise to the victims and last month admitted "grave mistakes" after reading a 2,300-page report on the abuse in Chile which included the testimony of 64 people gathered in Santiago and New York by renowned Vatican investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Around 80 Chilean clergymen have been involved in sexual abuse cases in recent years, and the country's 32 bishops will come to Rome this month after being summoned by the pontiff in a letter sent on April 12.

Cruz said that the pope had asked all three of them for forgiveness and that he "had never seen anyone so contrite".

"I told him that Barros was watching us when we were abused, I think that's clear to him now," the victim said.

"He (the pope) said, 'I was part of the problem, I caused this,'" Cruz added.

In a jointly-read statement at a press conference held on Wednesday afternoon the trio said that "for almost 10 years we have been treated as enemies because we fight against sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Church."

"We hope that Pope Francis transforms his loving words of forgiveness into exemplary actions. Otherwise, all this will be in vain."