VATICAN CITY - Men who were sexually abused by a priest in Chile described the private talks they’ve had so far with Pope Francis at the Vatican as very helpful and respectful Sunday.
James Hamilton, one of three clergy abuse survivors the pope invited to Italy after he discounted some of their assertions, tweeted that his more than two hours of conversation with Francis were “enormously constructive.”
A second, Jose Andres Murillo, posted on Twitter that he stressed the importance of understanding sexual abuse as “abuse of power” during his time with the pope. The third man, Juan Carlos Cruz, was due to meet with Francis on Sunday.
During a January visit to Chile, Francis sought to discredit the men’s claims that a bishop covered up their abuse, calling the victims’ assertions “calumny.” After his remarks provoked an outcry, the pope asked them to be his guests at the Vatican City hotel where he lives.
Francis has asked the Holy See not to reveal the contents of his talks with the abuse victims, saying his priorities were listening to them and asking their forgiveness.
On Sunday, as some 30,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s customary noon appearance from an Apostolic Palace window, the three men, looking relaxed, stood on a terrace overlooking the vast space and waved to well-wishers.
Cruz said in a tweet he was happy to see his friends “calm and in peace and feeling very welcome by the Holy Father” after their visits with Francis.
The three men visiting the Vatican were abused by the Chilean church’s most notorious predator, the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Their testimony was key to the Vatican’s decision to remove Karadima from the ministry and to order him in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer.
While in Chile at the beginning of the year, Francis demanded proof of their allegation that a bishop he appointed to a diocese there, Juan Barros, was aware of their abuse. The men have repeatedly contended that Barros witnessed Karadima abusing them and did nothing, a claim Barros denied.
The pontiff maintained he had no evidence of Barros’ wrongdoing. The Associated Press has reported that Francis did have evidence, including a letter from Cruz that spelled out Barros’ wrongdoing. The letter was given to Francis’ top adviser on the sex abuse crisis.
Francis has since done a turnaround, blaming his January remarks on a lack of “truthful and balanced” information reaching him regarding Barros.