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Pope Francis tells Chilean abuse victims: 'I was part of the problem'

Three survivors of clerical sex abuse urged Pope Francis to turn his words into action against the "networks of abuse" in the Catholic Church.

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Delia Gallagher (CNN)
ROME (CNN) — Three survivors of clerical sex abuse urged Pope Francis to turn his words into action against the "networks of abuse" in the Catholic Church.

At a news conference in Rome, Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton Sanchez and Jose Andres Murillo, all from Chile, spoke of the five days they spent with Pope Francis as his guests at Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City.

Cruz said the Pope told him, "I was part of the problem. I caused this and I apologize to you."

Francis invited the survivors to the Vatican after apologizing for "grave errors" in his handling of a Chilean sex abuse scandal.

The survivors each met individually for two to three hours with Francis and again as a group, they said.

"The Pope was very attentive, receptive and very empathetic during the intense and long hours of conversation," Cruz said.

Pope Francis had initially discounted the survivors' testimony against Bishop Juan Barros, whom the survivors say witnessed and covered-up abuses in Chile.

The Pope appointed Barros a bishop in 2015 over the objections of residents of the southern city of Osorno. Cruz is one of the accusers. He said Barros covered up for the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of child sex abuse in 2011.

Francis appointed Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 and defended him strenuously for three years, calling accusations against him "calumny."

Barros has denied knowing about what he called the "serious abuses" of Karadima and has said he never approved or participated in those actions.

In a statement dated January 30, Barros' diocese said, "The Bishop ... expressed that he is taking everything related to the Pope with faith and joy, asking God for the truth to shine through and especially invoking the Virgin Mary so everyone can reach peace."

"For almost 10 years we have been treated as enemies because we fight against sexual abuse and coverup in the church," Cruz said, reading a statement on behalf of the group.

"These days we met the friendly face of the church, completely different from the one we had seen before," he said.

Francis did not tell the survivors what he plans to do with Barros but asked them to come up with ideas and suggestions on dealing with sex abuse and send them to him.

In February 2017, Cruz revealed that a letter he had written to Pope Francis detailing the sex abuse was hand-delivered to the Pope by Cardinal Sean O'Malley in April 2015.

At the news conference, Cruz said he did not press the Pope about whether he had ever read that letter or why he failed to act on it.

"We will never know the full truth," Hamilton said, "but now he is very well informed because he wanted to be really well informed. That's why he asked for our visit."

"Everyone deserves a second chance," Hamilton said.

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