Letter to Pope Francis from Juan Carlos Cruz

This is an English translation by of the March 3, 2015 letter to Pope Francis by Juan Carlos Cruz Chellew, who has approved the text of this translation. The existence of this letter was made public on February 5, 2018 by the Associated Press. See: AP Exclusive: 2015 letter belies pope’s claim of ignorance, by Nicole Winfield and Eva Vergara; also available in Spanish: AP Exclusiva: El papa recibió testimonio de víctima chilena. The photographs below show Cruz reviewing the letter, and Marie Collins giving the letter to Cardinal Sean O'Malley for transmission to the addressee, Pope Francis.


To His Holiness
Pope Francis
Domus Sanctae Marthae
Piazza Santa Marta,
00120 Vatican City

March 3, 2015

Dearest Holy Father Francis:

My name is Juan Carlos Cruz Chellew and I am one of the victims of sexual abuse by the Chilean priest Fernando Karadima. Holy Father, I have brought myself to write you this letter because I am tired of fighting, crying and suffering. Our story is well known and there is no need to repeat it, except to tell you of the horror of having lived this abuse and how I wanted to kill myself. However, in my personal case, my love for the Lord and the Virgin Mary, my family, my friends, and my country gave me strength to move on with life. A few years after the abuse, I was forced to leave Chile in order to escape Karadima’s threats. With nothing more than my degree in journalism, I moved to the United States and became an executive at a major global company. They have helped and supported me a lot since my case was made public in the media all over the world. But Holy Father, one cannot imagine how much I miss my country, my family, my widowed mother, my brothers, my nephews and nieces whom I love so dearly.

Holy Father, I struggle daily to keep that flickering flame of faith alive. I pray and go to Mass on Sundays. Some people criticize me for it when they find out what I have been through and can see first-hand how we have been treated by the Chilean bishops, particularly the cardinals. I do not budge but tell them that no one can take away that which is most precious: one’s relationship with God and one’s faith. I witness with sadness the fact that those who have gone through the same horrible experiences and many others I know do not even want to have their children baptized. I fully understand them; you cannot imagine the pain this causes a person, and they have suffered a lot.

Holy Father, it is bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse to which we were subjected, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse. The current Chilean bishops Juan Barros Madrid, Tomislav Koljatic Maroevic, Andrés Artega Manieu and Horacio Valenzuela Abarca were all members of Karadima’s group. They would stand by watching, sometimes right beside us, while Karadima was abusing us. Holy Father, Karadima would even touch them inappropriately, kiss them and pat their genitals, and they would reciprocate his affections. However, they have staunchly defended Karadima and never sincerely asked us for forgiveness. What is more, the only thing they have done is to slander and discredit us even after the facts were recognized as true by the Vatican and Chilean justice. They remain unpunished in their dioceses, trying to dodge any bullet that comes their way and denying the wrong they have done and the good they have failed to do.  [page 2 begins here]

Last January it became known that Juan Barros Madrid had been appointed bishop of Osorno. Holy Father, knowing all we know, the news of his appointment came as a real shock to me and a lot of other people. I immediately wrote a formal complaint to Nuncio Ivo Scapolo, whom we repeatedly have tried to meet and who has never had the courtesy of receiving us. This is the letter I sent to him on February 3, 2015:

To Your Excellency
Monsignor Ivo Scapolo
Apostolic Nuncio in Chile

Dear Mr. Nuncio,

I send you my greetings, hoping that this letter finds you well. Monsignor, many times I have tried to talk to you, either with my friends Jimmy Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo or alone, but for some reason it has not proved possible. When I sent you the photos of Father Karadima, Father Ortiz de Lazcano promised me that you would reply, but this has not happened.

Monsignor, I do not know all the protocols, but today I am writing you as another Catholic that expects a reply from the Holy Father’s representative and bishop, ordained to help those who are suffering. I have sent a copy to the Holy Father and other Congregations in the Vatican.

I would like to address the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to the diocese of Osorno. Monsignor, I want this to be a formal complaint or testimony about something which I think is a source of great pain because of everything I and many others have gone through with Bishop Barros.

I have known Juan Barros since 1980, when he was a seminarian and among those who were closest to Father Fernando Karadima. The problem is not that he was close to Karadima, as many people complain. Many of us were too, including those of us who were abused and taken advantage of, as well as others who distanced themselves in remorse. Juan Barros was a man, a seminarian, a priest and a bishop who did all the dirty work of Fernando Karadima. As a seminarian under Karadima’s influence and direction, and after having made life absolutely miserable for Father Benjamín Pereira, rector of the seminary at the end of the 70s and beginning of the 80s, Juan Barros left to serve as secretary to Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno, an appointment made possible by Karadima.

Monsignor, I saw and heard the instructions that Karadima gave Barros to get things from Cardinal Fresno. He managed to have Monsignor Fresno ordain him in 1984 at none other than the parish of El Bosque. I witnessed all the political maneuvering involved to accomplish this in a kind of affront to Father Pereira and all the clergy of Santiago, who dared not say anything. After this goal was achieved, Cardinal Fresno made a series of appointments which were all manipulated from El Bosque. Thanks to the information provided to Karadima by Barros, who had access to just about everything relating to the Archdiocese and to the Church in Chile in general, Karadima was constantly updated about what was going on and was able to stay several steps ahead of the bishops themselves, not to mention the clergy. I know this because I saw and heard it. Appointments such as that of Andrés Arteaga, a deacon preparing for ordination to the priesthood who was appointed as a seminary [page 3 begins here] instructor, or that of Rodrigo Polanco, who was fast-tracked from a last-year seminarian to an instructor for priest candidates during their introductory year, just to name a few examples. Not to mention what happened to those priests who were on Karadima’s blacklist. I heard him talk with Juan Barros and devise plans to accuse them.

Francisco Gómez Barroilhet testified in the trial against Karadima that he delivered in 1980 or 1981 a letter to Juan Barros containing abuse allegations for Cardinal Fresno to respond to. According to Gómez, the letter never reached the cardinal and witnesses report that Juan Barros would have destroyed it. Juan Barros, Tomislav Koljatic, Horacio Valenzuela and Andrés Arteaga, among others, threatened us or tried to destroy our lives every time someone tried to speak up.

Monsignor, Juan Barros was my friend. Many times I went along with him on missions, and he personally asked me to join his group. That is why I know so many details and also saw and heard so many things. Being close to Karadima and a friend of Barros I heard things from both sides. Juan Barros knew me well and held me in high esteem, and for years I was an insider to information that others did not have.

When in 1987 I decided, for reasons already known and as I have stated during the canonical and criminal trials, to quit going to El Bosque and to distance myself from Karadima, what ensued was the unleashing of all the machinery that Karadima employed every time someone close to him distanced himself. For fear that he would report what was going on inside El Bosque, that person had to be destroyed.

The night before, on October 25, 1987, Karadima called for a meeting to issue a "fraternal correction" against me, a euphemism for a real trial. As I testified, and as is already on the record and was proven true during the criminal and canonical trials, Karadima chaired the meeting and twelve other persons, including Juan Barros, took part in it. They were all seated around a table while I sat on a chair a bit further away, as if we were at an inquisition trial. Karadima threatened to say things about me that he had learned under the seal of confession if I did not “improve” my conduct, pay closer attention to him, and obey him in everything. I looked desperately at those who I thought were my friends, but they ignored me. What is more, they added more fuel to the fire with accusations that infuriated Karadima, stating, among other things, that I had befriended other priests who were not from El Bosque and went to them for confession. Some of these things seem ridiculous now, but at that time I felt destroyed by them.

Once “the trial” was over, Juan Barros and others came up to me and told me that if I complied, everything would be fine. However, when I returned to the seminary that night, I told everything to Father Juan de Castro, the rector, and my spiritual mentor, Monsignor Vicente Ahumada. They received me with much love — as they witnessed my anguish — and helped me to survive those first days, since as soon as Karadima heard that I had told them everything, he ordered, through the seminary instructors Arteaga and Polanco, that no one should ever speak to me again, and set into motion the machinery to destroy me as I had seen him do with others. Father Arteaga told me these exact words: “You don't know the damage you've caused. You’re going to pay for this.” That was almost the same thing that Arteaga, when he was a bishop and held a position at the Catholic University, told José Andrés Murillo when Murillo went to talk with him about Karadima’s abuses, and Arteaga threatened to send an army of lawyers his way if he dared speak out.

As if the suffering I was experiencing wasn’t enough, Barros arranged for a letter to be written to the cardinal and the rector of the seminary asking them to expel me because I was gay. Only [page 4 begins here] Karadima knew, under the seal of confession, the anguish this had caused me and the details of situations where I had suffered a lot, things I had done penance and was deeply sorry for. No big deal, somebody would say today, but in those days I might have become suicidal if my homosexuality had become public knowledge. Juan Barros “mysteriously” found out about these secrets, to which they added their own fabrications, resulting in a handwritten letter in black ink that he showed to Cardinal Fresno, and that they then took to the seminary. Something that only Karadima knew under the seal of confession was shared with Juan Barros, who tried to use it to destroy me. Father De Castro and Father Ahumada read the letter and called me to Father Ahumada’s office. They let me read the letter and I realized that my confessional secrets were written in that letter but also many other details that had been made up or exaggerated. I told the instructors the whole truth and they believed me and spoke with the Cardinal, who decided to let me stay at the seminary. I left two years later on my own volition when I realized that I did not have a vocation to the priesthood, and even if I had it, I could not have endured any more due to the constant pressures and aggressions from Karadima through his followers, most especially, Juan Barros.

Monsignor, these are things that I saw, heard and experienced. This is not a second-hand account. Moreover, these facts were corroborated during a confrontation with Guillermo Ovalle Chadwick that was facilitated by Judge González, who conducted the criminal trial. Ovalle, a layman close to Karadima and a friend of Juan Barros, testified that he had overheard a conversation between Juan Barros and Karadima where they said that it was necessary to force me out of the seminary and get me out of circulation.

Mr. Nuncio, in addition to these facts, which I could explain in greater detail if you require it, I also testified that I would see Father Fernando Karadima and Juan Barros kissing and touching each other. Generally, it was Father Karadima who touched Barros’s genitals outside his pants, in the same way as he did with now-bishop Koljatic. Barros played a kind of jealousy game among his closest circle of friends as they took turns sitting next to Karadima, being alone with him in his room and ousting others. Being much younger, I was both horrified and paralyzed while I watched this happen, since I had been living my own share of abuse by Karadima, which has since been corroborated in the canonical and criminal trials. Juan Barros used to sit at the table next to Karadima and lay his head on Karadima’s shoulder so that Karadima could caress him. Then he would kiss him furtively. More disturbing was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he was not kissing Karadima — watched while one of us — the minors — was touched by Karadima and he would make us give him kisses, saying: “Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.” He would stick out his tongue and kiss us with it. Juan Barros was witness to all of this on countless occasions, not only with me but also with others.

When interrogated, Juan Barros, as well as the other bishops, denied having witnessed any of this, claiming that it was a kind of vendetta against him and Father Karadima. Monsignor, I have shared, recounted and said these things countless times, including during the canonical and criminal trials, but today I do it as a formal complaint before you because I believe that the Holy Father does not know all these details. If he means what he says, then men like Juan Barros should not be in charge of a diocese. Juan Barros covered up everything that I am telling you, Mr. Nuncio. I will also testify to this during the civil suit in March.

I hope that this appointment will be reconsidered. Rather than uniting us as Catholics, who have become so divided by the damage done to us from sexual abuse and concealment, it drives us further apart from one another and contradicts everything [page 5 begins here] the Holy Father has been saying. There are so many good priests who could be wonderful shepherds, but not men like Juan Barros who cover up.

I swear before the Lord and His most holy Mother that everything I have written in this letter is true. I remain available for any further information or elaboration you may need.

Trusting in the Lord, I await your reply. Respectfully yours,

Juan Carlos Cruz Chellew

Following your exhortations, Holy Father, to the bishops and cardinals not to cover up, I dared once again to call the Nunciature in Chile. I asked the Nuncio’s secretary what had happened with the complaint. She promised to call me back, which she did on February 13. Allow me to quote exactly what the Nuncio said through his secretary: “I don't want to talk about Bishop Barros any more. Moreover, we will have no more communication with you.” Holy Father, even his secretary was embarrassed by this message. I thanked her and was left feeling disappointed once again.

However, I started to receive phone calls from laypeople and priests in Osorno and I told them that they were the ones who had to keep fighting to prevent a cover-up bishop from taking over the diocese and that I wished that you would listen to us. That’s what happened.

Holy Father, Juan Barros denies seeing anything. And yet, there are dozens of us who can testify to the fact that not only was he present when Karadima abused us, but he also kissed Karadima and they touched each other, as happened with the other three bishops: Tomislav Koljatic, Horacio Valenzuela and Andrés Arteaga.

In spite of it all, Juan Barros became bishop of Osorno. We had put our hope in you, in your declarations about zero tolerance. We wanted to believe that you were not informed, but everyone tells us that you were fully informed. I still hope that you will do something for the many victims of abuse in Chile and in the rest of the world. This is not fixed by simply saying sorry. Nuncio Scapolo insults us by saying that we are a “boisterous minority” and the bishops basically laugh in our faces.

The situation of the Church in Chile is on the road to nowhere. The latest surveys show that nearly 80 percent of the people in Chile have little or no confidence in the Church. No one wants that.

Dear Holy Father, I am no one to tell you whom you should appoint to this or that office, but the appointment of Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz to your small committee was a heavy blow to many of the victims and also to many Chileans. Errázuriz stopped the investigations, ignored the accusations, took advice from Karadima’s disciples, whose words he believed, and made life difficult for us without any hint of compassion, to the point of lying to us and ignoring us. We asked the cardinal, in the most appropriate and respectful way, if we could have a meeting with him, but he never wanted to. When you appointed him to your committee, reporters reminded him of the criticisms against him and he said with sarcastic laughter: “I don't care what they say. That is apparently not what the Pope thinks.” A frustration and cruelty that is hard to imagine. The same thing happened with Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati. He played a key role in our case when he served as auxiliary bishop of Santiago. José Andrés Murillo gave him a letter signed in [page 6 begins here] 2003 and he never did anything about it, even though he affirmed that he would do something. José Andrés had a meeting with him and good Jesuit priests also spoke with him. His failure to act, which he now denies, made it possible for Karadima to continue with his abuses. The same abuses were committed by other Salesian priests. There is even a victim, Ricardo Harex, who is still missing and his body has never been found since the priest protected by Cardinal Ezzati committed suicide in 2011. We have asked him to help us, but the victims are furthest from his mind. In one of his recent statements about our allegations, he said: “We should let the birds sing.” We are victimized over and over again, and many others haven’t dared come forward because they think that they will be treated as we have been treated. It bears mentioning, Holy Father, that there is not a single victim of abuse in Santiago who is satisfied and in agreement with the church authorities. They have all been re-victimized and received a harsh and distant treatment. We see with sadness the double standard applied in Chile and in what is happening in other countries like the situation in Granada.

None of the things you are calling for, Holy Father, is being done in Chile. Your “zero tolerance on abuse” is not being adhered to in Chile. I won’t linger on this point since it is enough to observe what has happened in the country when it comes to this issue. As for support to the victims, such as access to psychologists? Nonexistent. In short, the Chilean bishops, beginning with cardinals Errázuriz and Ezzati, seem to live in a parallel universe. It is enough to read the surveys to realize that the Church and the parishes in Chile are far from being regarded as “places of refuge.” Quite the opposite. No one believes that in Chile the bishops, beginning with their cardinals, think “that the Church is making every effort to protect their children, and that they have every right to turn to the Church with full confidence, for it is a place of refuge.” And much less that the victims “will be able to receive psychological assistance and spiritual care.”

Holy Father, we know so many silent victims, others who have committed suicide, still others who have not told their wives that they were abused. When we hear words like those uttered by Cardinal Ezzati, it hurts deeply. I know that it is the bishop who in the end applies the punishment in these cases of proven pedophilia. I also know, for instance, that in the case of the priest Cristián Precht, the Vatican requested that he receive the same sentence as Karadima or be removed permanently from the clerical state. After seeing this recommendation, which was also approved by the Judicial Vicar, Father Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano, Cardinal Ezzati chose to reduce the sentence to a mere five-year suspension from the ministry. Five years of paid vacation was the message sent to Chilean Catholics after it was proved that he had abused minors.

The Legionary of Christ priest John O'Reilly, convicted by the Chilean judicial system for repeatedly molesting at least one girl and included in the National Registry of Pedophiles, is still serving as a priest without any punishment from the Holy See. Nobody respects the “zero tolerance” that you have called for.

There are several other examples like this that I know because many priests have confided to us what happens out of public view, as if my colleagues James Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo and I, who were among the first to press charges, could do anything about it. I even have tried to encourage priests in Santiago who are deeply discouraged by the attitude first of Cardinal Errázuriz and now of Cardinal Ezzati and those close to him. I have asked Father Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano, Judicial Vicar, who tells me about some of this mismanagement and horrors and who himself works closely with Cardinal Ezzati, to write to Vatican authorities. He would not dare, because if he did, as he tells me, he would face [page 7 begins here] severe consequences. You cannot imagine the sheer number of priests I have to encourage to stay strong in their faith… they are just too afraid to speak up!

It is sad to see men like the former auxiliary bishop of Santiago, Cristián Contreras Villarroel, today Bishop of Melipilla, who became my friend when I met him at the seminary but who today merely finds ways to silence our criticism or our calls for help to these bishops, and who gave the appearance of negotiating with us in good faith but instead, using all that information, went to the press a few months ago to make our lawyer and us look bad. The result was the opposite: it was the Church that was made to look bad, which was exactly what we wanted to avoid.

I am telling you all this, Holy Father, to give you not only an idea of how we feel as victims of these priests but also how these pastors in Chile have treated us. We did not want to file a lawsuit for their negligence. But because nothing happened, and we had taken every other measure that was humanly feasible, we did file a suit. The cardinals showed no compassion. We were forced to do it for ourselves and for countless others. Not out of vengeance but so that others could be helped, and, once and for all, to hopefully heal this terrible situation. Last month, in a Chilean court of law, we nearly reached an agreement with the lawyers for the cardinal and the archdiocese of Santiago. Even the judge applauded our efforts. Still, at the eleventh hour, the cardinal told his lawyers not to accept. The judge, very surprised, told them: “It seems to me that what the plaintiffs are saying is reasonable, which has nothing to do with monetary damages. Hasn’t the Chilean Catholic Church already suffered a lot? Your position strikes me as excessively arrogant, and since you won’t compromise, we will go to trial.” A trial, Holy Father, at which cardinals, dozens of bishops and priests of the Chilean Church will be present in view of the whole country. Such a thing could have been avoided.

Nothing changes, Holy Father, and the general feeling of many Chileans is that they protect each other and ignore all calls for help or reparation. The confidence that Chilean Catholics have in the Church continues to fall to unprecedented levels. It has become the most agnostic country in Latin America after Uruguay, according to international polls. It does not have to be that way! Nobody is happy with the current state of affairs. I know that good priests greatly outnumber bad ones, but considering the church’s stance and all that is known about Cardinal Errázuriz, Cardinal Ezzati, his former auxiliary bishop Contreras, and his former vicar Rodrigo Tupper, along with the impunity awarded to Barros, Koljatic, Valenzuela, and Arteaga, and the treatment given to priests who have been sentenced for child sexual abuse, none of this makes the victims or Catholics in general in Chile want to trust the Church again. This notorious situation already is well known outside our country and gets us no closer to the reforms that you have called for and which have given all of us hope.

Holy Father, we come from families that have supported us, have good jobs, and therefore have been able to connect with good lawyers. Our fellow citizens knew that we had everything to lose and nothing to gain. We decided to tell the truth at any cost. It has been difficult because James and José Andrés have children and I have nieces and nephews — how does one explain this horror to children? In the end, though, it was worth it because after many years and falsehoods by the Church and its pastors, we removed an evil man from active ministry. In confronting the problem head on, others too were removed — though not adequately punished. The situation is that there are many victims we know about who will not dare tell their stories because they live in poverty or in places where, culturally, through no [page 8 begins here] fault of their own, the shame is tremendous and the consequences of coming forward are brutal. As a result, they stay silent. In Chile, our pastors do nothing until either the journalists arrive at their doorstep or the truth becomes unbearable. It cannot stay like this.

Holy Father, you are a beacon of hope for me and, I know, for thousands of others. When I saw that you were elected Pope, I was greatly hopeful for change, that you would hear us. But things are almost worse now, under the leadership of the cardinals whom I have alluded to. Here we are, proceeding to a trial that we did not want and for which nobody has the energy to keep fighting. But we must do it for those who have been silenced and squashed. I do not know if this letter will ever be placed in your hands, since Cardinal Ezzati has succeeded in preventing us from meeting with the Nuncio, who at one point promised to help us, then vanished, and even insulted me with his most recent message. But if you do get this letter, I beg you with complete humility to consider my message. They, like Karadima before them, insist we want to destroy the Church. They believe that we and the priests who have reached out to us are their enemies. The truth is the opposite. Although, Holy Father, I am hurt and in pain, I seek to safeguard the little faith I have left, since I would be lost without the love of Christ and Mother Mary. In each interview I give, I try to stress that the good men and women of the Church represent the majority. I keep moving forward, not without struggle, Holy Father. I am only able to resist falling into a state of sorrow by praying that someone like you will take action. I hope, one day, if it is God’s will, to visit you and personally embrace you. If and when you deem it appropriate to meet in private or public, I wish to personally tell it all to you. I always pray for you. Please help us. I want desperately to believe in you and keep my faith. Everything that has happened in the last several years and in recent days tells me otherwise. Please Holy Father, do not be like the others. There are so many of us who, in spite of it all, believe you can do something. I value my faith, it is what sustains me, but it is slipping away.

I entrust myself to your prayers. Respectfully yours,

Juan Carlos Cruz Chellew

[Address and phone number redacted by]






















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