SUZANNE SCZUBELEK HEREL
Juan Carlos Cruz was a young seminarian in Santiago, Chile, when he decided he had to die. “I thought of jumping off a building. I was thinking of what would be the best way and the fastest, so it wouldn’t hurt so much,” recalls Cruz. “Thank God, I came to my senses and recovered.” At the time, Cruz was suffering through his sixth year of sexual abuse at the hands of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a powerful, charismatic ally of former dictator Augusto Pinochet. The emotional scars of his ordeal may never heal. So he’s decided to embrace them in a crusade to hold the Catholic Church accountable for ignoring abuse claims. Now based in Delaware as the global head of communications for DuPont’s crop-protection division, Cruz wants to protect potential victims.
Along with two other men victimized by Karadima in the upscale El Bosque (The Forest) neighborhood, Cruz is a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit pending against the Santiago diocese. He’s joined by two others: Jose Murillo reported his abuse in 2003 to Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who initially took no action; Chilean physician James Hamilton’s nightmare stretched over 20 years—even after he’d married and started a family. Cruz, who now makes his home in Philadelphia, recounts his experience in a Spanish language memoir, “El Fin de la Inocencia” (“The End of Innocence”), published in June by Random House. The book swiftly shot to best-seller status in his home country and was on its third printing in as many months. A movie (“El Bosque”) is in the works about Cruz’s life, and his book is ready to be translated into English and sold in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church’s stronghold in Chile hasn’t fared well. “The opinion of experts is that, mainly because of this case, the approval rating of the church has declined strongly from five years ago,” says Juan Pablo Hermosilla, the lawyer handling the suit. “It’s among the most criticized institutions in Chile. This was a turning point.” The civil suit is the latest iteration of a court battle involving Karadima, now 84. After years of silence from church officials, the men filed a criminal complaint against Karadima in 2010. (A fourth plaintiff was dropped when the abuse was deemed to have occurred when he was an 18-year-old adult.) After seven months, the complaint was dismissed by the court on the grounds there wasn’t enough evidence. But Cruz and his fellow accusers had opened the floodgates.
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