Later this year, Pope Francis will be in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. While the global church sex abuse scandal isn’t on the agenda, it’s still on the minds of many.
That scandal is certainly on the mind of Juan Carlos Cruz. He now works in Wilmington as a high level executive at DuPont. Cruz immigrated from Chile and knows first hand what that scandal means.
Cruz was attending seminary at the El Bosque parish in Chile when he started to be abused at the hands of the highly respected priest Father Fernando Karadima. It all started for Cruz after the death of his father
“He told me, ‘Juan Carlos, you are blessed. The Lord has done something great with you, he has brought you to me. I’m going to be your father. I’m going to replace your father,'” Cruz said.
Cruz said Karadima would hear confession from his inner circle of boys in his bedroom. “I was going to confession, and suddenly, he started touching me. It all went down hill from there.” Cruz said he felt paralyzed and ashamed by the abuse. “It went on for 8 years, and it’s very, it produces me a lot of shame and embarrassment.”
Once he finally escaped Karadima and the church, Cruz tried to tuck away his pain, and move on with life. “For some people it works, for others, it just eats you up. I’ve had friends that have died, have committed suicide, and for me that’s I think what made me come out and speak out about this.”
Cruz joined with two other victims to publicly accuse Karadima of abuse and other church leaders of covering it up. A criminal investigation confirmed their accusations, but the statute of limitations had expired, now a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese starts in March.
The Vatican has sentenced Karadima to a life of prayer and penitence, not a just punishment for Cruz. “He’s living in a convent, which we say he’s like in an all inclusive because he’s being treated very well,” Cruz said. “He’s not in the parish, he cannot have contact with people so that’s a big triumph, but he never paid really for what he had done.”
Cruz has received lots of support in Chile, even from Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who connected with Cruz during a January visit to the Port of Wilmington. “She came to see some workers that were Chilean workers and I was standing with them. She said hello to them in Spanish, and then she saw me, and she said, ‘Juan Carlos, I can’t believe it,’ and she gave me a big kiss.”
To be welcomed and recognized by the leader of his native country means a drastic change for Cruz. Karadima, his abuser, was very well connected to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and many of his top generals. That created an air of intimidation that enabled the abuse to continue. “When you see all this tsunami of power coming toward you, you’re a lonely voice that no one is going to believe.”
But now, it’s a much different story. In addition to support from Pres. Bachelet, Cruz said he has received tremendous support from his coworkers and superiors at DuPont for his efforts to help other victims of abuse.
“It really means a lot, because wow how the tides have turned from when we were these scared men talking about sexual abuse and now we can help others by speaking out.”
In addition to speaking out, Cruz has also written a book about his experience and started a foundation to help other victims.
“I know too many people who have died not trying and it breaks my heart and it makes me cry every time I think of them because some of them were my friends. I don’t want any one to have to go through that.”
His book, “El Fin de la Inocencia” or “The End of Innocence” is now in its third printing in Spanish and will soon be published in English. The story of priest abuse in Chile is now being made into a film.
Cruz says he’s was thrilled when Pope Francis, a fellow South American became pope, but he’s been disappointed by some of his actions, including naming some of the Chilean church leaders who covered up his abuse to high positions in the Vatican.
“It is unbelievable to me, and it’s sad, because we should be so excited to have a Latin American Pope, which I am,” Cruz said. “It gave me so much hope, and slowly it’s been a bigger and bigger disappointment.”
You can read more about Cruz’s story of overcoming abuse in this month’s Delaware Today magazine or at DelawareToday.com.