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Church sex abuse survivor calls for 'zero tolerance'

February 22, 2019

Bishops at a summit on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have heard of the abuse suffered by just some of the victims. One victim was Juan Carlos Cruz, who told DW the Catholic Church needs a "zero tolerance" policy.

USA Juan Carlos Cruz in New York
Image: picture-allliance/AP Photo/A. Kudacki

Interview with a sexual abuse survivor

Five victims of sexual abuse shared their experiences with 190 bishops and senior religious figures from around the globe, as they attend a four-day summit called by Pope Francis in response to widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of church sex abuse, was one of the victims who addressed bishops in a video testimony on the opening day of the summit on Thursday.

'You know what sexual abuse does to people'

Cruz told DW on Friday that his testimony focused not on the abuse he suffered but on the known damaging affect sexual abuse has on people.

"My testimony wasn't about me," Cruz said. "What I told them is: 'You know what sexual abuse does to people, you've heard it time and time again and I think you understand and you know, and if you don't, you shouldn't be here.'"

Read more: Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church

Cruz told DW that a zero tolerance policy towards sexual abuse had to be "absolutely enforced" in the Catholic Church.

"You abuse a child or a person or anybody — you're out, and you're turned in to law enforcement. You cover up something like that — you're out, and you're turned in to law enforcement as well, but you're out of the church. That's the door, go away."

'Majority want to talk'

When asked about scenarios in which the church was not willing to give evidence because the victim did not want the information to be made public, Cruz told DW it was "understandable that some people don't want to talk."

"You have to understand, the trauma of being abused, raped, is horrible … The social pressure and difficulty that that means is horrible," Cruz said.

But he added that while some victims prefer to remain silent, he believes "the majority do want to talk."

"Church authorities should be facilitating that and helping [victims] and accompanying them to meet with civil authorities and help them through the process, no matter what happens."

'We have failed'

The summit on Friday broached the need for a new culture of accountability in the church. Indian Cardinal Oswald Gracias said the sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable people not only breaks divine and ecclesiastical law but is also criminal behavior.

"The church does not live in an isolated world of its own making," Gracias said. "The church lives in the world and with the world. Those who are guilty of criminal behavior are justly accountable to civil authority for that behavior.

"We must repent — and do so together, collegially — because along the way we have failed," the cardinal said.

Gracias said abuse by clerics was not a phenomenon that occurred only in certain parts of the world, and no bishop could accept that the problem did not concern him. "We are each responsible for the whole church. We hold accountability and responsibility together," he said.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias: Those who are guilty are accountable to civil authority

New legal procedures needed

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich told the summit on Friday that new legal procedures were needed to both report and investigate Catholic superiors when they are accused of misconduct or of negligence in handling other abuse cases.

He said lay experts needed to be involved at every step of the process since rank-and-file Catholics often know far better than priests what trauma the clergy sex abuse and its cover-up has caused.

"It is the witness of the laity, especially mothers and fathers with great love for the church, who have pointed out movingly and forcefully how gravely incompatible the commission, cover-up and toleration of clergy sexual abuse is with the very meaning and essence of the church," Cupich said.

"Mothers and fathers have called us to account, for they simply cannot comprehend how we as bishops and religious superiors have often been blinded to the scope and damage of sexual abuse of minors," he said.

law/sms (AP, AFP)

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