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Chile victims of clergy sex abuse praise talks with pope

Father Jordi Bertomeu, second from right, stands with sex abuse victims Jose Andres Murillo, left, James Hamilton, third from left, and Juan Carlos Cruz, right, as they look at St. Peter's Square during the Regina Coeli prayer celebrated by Pope Francis, at the Vatican , Sunday, April 29, 2018. The men, who were sexually abused by a priest in Chile, are describing as helpful the private talks they've had with Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — 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 men staying at the hotel where the pope lives, tweeted that his more than two hours of conversation with Francis were “enormously constructive.” Jose Andres Murillo tweeted that the importance of understanding sexual abuse as “abuse of power” was stressed 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.” The pope invited them to Vatican City as his guests after his remarks provoked an outcry.

Francis has requested the Holy See not to reveal the content 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.

In a tweet, Cruz said he was “very satisfied” by how the conversation had gone with the pope and his “dear friends” Murillo and Hamilton, describing the trio as “calm and in peace and feeling very welcome by the Holy Father.”

The three men visiting the Vatican were abused by the Chilean church’s most notorious predator, the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Their testimony was key in the Vatican’s decision to remove Karadima from ministry and to order him in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer.

While traveling in Chile in January, Francis demanded proof of their allegation that a bishop he had appointed to a diocese there, Juan Barros, was aware of their abuse. The men have repeatedly contended that Barros witnessed and ignored their abuse, 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 an abrupt turnaround, blaming a lack of “truthful and balanced” information reaching him regarding Barros.

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Frances D'Emilio

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