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"I’ll let the experts talk about statistics... I’m going to speak from the heart" - Juan Carlos Cruz

Yesterday, I shared a transcript from the first part of an expert panel that took place at the University of Notre Dame in September: "Statistics Cannot Be Ignored" - Journalist Peter Steinfels's Remarks on the Abuse Crisis. If you have not already read that post, please check there first to understand the context for today’s piece.


I am grateful for the comments generated by that post, including several pieces of thoughtful criticism from those who found Steinfels’ presentation “misleading,” “sterile,” and “dismissive.” (You can view a few of these comments on the post itself, as well as on the In Spirit and Truth Facebook page.) Although I do find Steinfels to be a reasonable commentator whose analysis is worth engaging, I did not intend to communicate agreement with his message or approach. I hope I have not done harm by sharing it. Perhaps it would have been better to have shared his remarks only in conjunction with those of the other panelists, to make sure that I was presenting a more complete picture of the dialogue? I apologize if anyone, particularly survivors of clerical abuse, found my post hurtful.


Fortunately, the next speaker on the panel was survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who provided a valuable counterpoint to Steinfels’ approach. Cruz was abused as a child in Chile by now-notorious abuser Fernando Karadima. After years of being ignored by leaders of the Catholic Church in Chile, Cruz and other Chilean survivors were dismissed by Pope Francis himself, who called their accusations “slander.” Eventually, Pope Francis was convinced of the truth of these allegations and met personally with Cruz in January 2018 to offer an apology. Since then, Cruz offered opening remarks for the February 2019 Meeting on the Protection of Minors in Rome, has been involved in high-level conversations at the Vatican, and often provides his testimony and commentary on the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.


You can read Juan Carlos Cruz’s opening remarks below. Please note that, unlike Steinfels, Cruz spoke extemporaneously, so I have deleted filler words like “um” or “I mean” to make it easier to convey his message in writing. Reminder: A video recording of the entire Notre Dame event is available online here and would be much more valuable than reading my transcript.


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“I’ll let the experts talk about statistics, talk about what they know so well. I’m going to speak from the heart.

First, I want to start by saying thank you to Father Jenkins. I happen to have been educated in Chile at the Holy Cross School by the Holy Cross priests, and then I spent a year and half here at Notre Dame at Moreau Seminary. And I can tell you, those were the most wonderful years of my life. I experienced healing. I had not spoken about what had happened to me by this parish priest, and I found solace walking around the grotto, walking where you walk everyday. Today when I landed, I left my bags and went and walked, and I choked up because I owe so much to Notre Dame and to the Holy Cross priests.


I have remained Catholic because I decided very early on that I wasn’t going to let them win. I wasn’t going to let the bad ones win, because I believe that the relationship anybody, man, woman, any age, has with God - being God, Yahweh, Allah, whatever… It’s the most basic human right that one can have, is to believe in what you believe, and nobody can mess with it. And so I wasn’t going to let them mess with that, because if I am here today, it’s because my faith has sustained me.


Every survivor is a world in its own, and you have to understand that there are people that are very angry. I have friends that have committed suicide - many, too many. Amongst you here, there might be a survivor, and I want you to know that it’s really hard to speak out and to tell your story, but I also want you to know that there’s so many people that are waiting to lend you a hand, to help you through that horrible pain.


So, thank you Father Jenkins, thank you Notre Dame, thank you John. Thanks for inviting me. I’m no hero; I’m just a person. When they ask me, “What gives you courage?”, well, what gives me courage is so many brave people that I hear speaking out, so many people that I see that want to help survivors, and all those friends that I’ve lost and all that silent majority that’s walking around there without being able to speak their horrible misery that eats you up inside.


I thought so many times about committing suicide, and I’m so glad I didn’t, because my life has turned into a life of trying to heal, but trying to help other survivors experience what I’ve experienced. I am lucky to have these platforms where people invite me to speak - on TV, here, at major events. And there are survivors in the audience, or there are other survivors listening, and they have the courage to speak. In Chile, an 85 year old man who was abused by a priest when he was a little boy said “Ever since I heard you, I was able to tell my story, and now I don’t have that eating me up inside and I can die a happy person.” And it doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, whatever you are - know that if you have been abused, if you have gone through that trauma, there’s people that are going to be there to help you.


I also want to say that there is so much to be done. We talk about statistics; okay, it’s gone down in the United States. It hasn’t gone down in the world. It’s getting worse. You know, before I even met Pope Francis, I thought, if I was only able to talk to Pope Francis… He speaks Spanish, he’s from a neighboring country of mine, he has to understand. Being the pope, stroke of the pen, he passes a law, and this will end. That’s what I thought. I went to the Vatican. I saw what happens, and trust me, no pen, no nothing can switch or change the attitude of some bishops. Pope Francis wants to solve the problem. I’ve talked to him, and I know that he’s sincere. However, the bishops go talk to him and say, “Absolutely, Pope Francis.” They nod their heads. They bow. They kiss his ring. They go back to their countries and do the same thing they have been doing - cover up, cover up, cover up. Nobody holds them accountable, and that needs to stop.


And the other thing is what I’ve seen lately here - Bishop Vigano and several bishops in the United States - Cardinal Burke, Chaput, several others - weaponizing victims, weaponizing survivors. Why? Because they want to pass their ultra-conservative agenda, and the way of hurting Francis is by hurting him with the abuse crisis. But that’s not what they care about. They’ll drop victims as soon as they pass their agenda. And their agenda is going back to this elitism, this power that they can’t let go. So we have to fight against that. We have to hold these people accountable.


So, what gives me courage is you. It’s all the survivors out there. It’s all the people that don’t dare to speak, that suffer in silence, that we can all help... [Here, Cruz teared up, then paused to compose himself.]… And knowing that there are good people out there that will lend a hand if you need it. And so, that’s what gives me courage.”


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Jesus, please be close to all those who are suffering in silence.

And help all of us in the Church become the kind of people who give Juan Carlos courage.

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©2020 by Sara Larson