“I have been sexually molested for long time, over a hundred times, and this sexual molestation has created traumas and flashbacks all across my life. It’s difficult to live life, it’s difficult to be with people, to get connected with people. I carried an attitude for my family, for my friends and even for God.”
Roman Catholic clergy heard these words, coming from an Asian man who was assaulted by a pedophile priest since childhood, on Thursday morning in the Vatican auditorium hosting the bishops’ summit on the “Protection of Minors in the Church,” which Pope Francis called in response to the sexual abuse scandals in the Church. The meeting brought together 190 cardinals, bishops, presidents of episcopal conferences and religious superiors from all over the world.
In his testimony, the abuse survivor added that “every time I have spoken to the Provincials and to the Major Superiors, they have all practically covered [up] every issue, covered [up] the perpetrators and that kills me sometimes,” and asked the bishops in attendance at the meeting to “[get] their act together” and agree on “strong” measures which would punish the perpetrators and “put them [in their] place.”
This was one of five videotaped testimonies from victims of sexual abuse in the Church—most of whom remained anonymous, at their request—with which Pope Francis chose to start the summit devoted to fighting pedophilia in the Church, showing them before his own introductory speech. Another abuse survivor who offered his testimony was Juan Carlos Cruz from Chile, a country that was the setting for one of the latest major scandals in the Church, centered around serial pedophile Don Fernando Karadima, the bishop of Santiago for many years. Karadima was finally condemned by the Holy See for child abuse in 2011, together with other bishops close to him (nine of whom have been removed from office). The nationwide scandal involved over 80 Chilean priests who have been involved in the sexual abuse of minors since 2000.
“For a Catholic,” Cruz said in his testimony, “the most difficult thing is to be able to speak about sexual abuse; but once you have taken courage and start telling … the first thing I thought was: I’m going to tell everything to Holy Mother Church, where they will listen to me and respect me. The first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the Church. This pattern exists not only in Chile: it exists all over the world, and this must end. “
Then, Cruz addressed the participants at the meeting directly: “You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed, in some cases, into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction.” He added that what we are seeing is only “the tip of the iceberg”: “although the Church says it’s all over, cases continue to emerge: why? This is because it proceeds like when you are diagnosed with a tumor: you must treat the whole cancer, not just remove the tumor; so you need chemotherapy, radiotherapy, you need to have some treatment. It is not enough to remove the tumor and that’s it.”
This widespread practice of ignoring and even attacking the victims was confirmed by the testimony of another survivor, a 53-year-old man from Eastern Europe who was abused by a priest in his teenage years: “As a teenager, after my conversion, I went to the priest so he could teach me how to read the Scriptures during Mass; and he touched my private parts. I spent a night in his bed. This hurt me deeply.” He added that he also felt hurt by “the bishop to whom, after many years, as an adult, I talked about the incident… I met the bishop and he attacked me without trying to understand me, and this hurt me.”
“From the age of 15, I had sexual relations with a priest,” said another survivor, an African woman, in her testimony. “This lasted for 13 years. I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives. At first I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me. I was afraid of him, and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me. And since I was completely dependent on him economically, I suffered all the humiliations he inflicted on me. We had these relationships both in his home, in the village and in the diocesan reception center. In this relationship I did not have the right to have ‘boyfriends’; whenever I had one and he came to know about it, he would beat me up. This was the condition for helping me economically. … I feel I have a life destroyed. I have suffered so many humiliations in this relationship that I do not know what the future holds for me.”
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