(Reuters) - Two victims of sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic Church priest in Chile launched a fresh attack on the country’s bishops on Wednesday, accusing them of failing to reform or learn from the crisis.
Juan Carlos Cruz and Jose Andres Murillo, two prominent victims of the abuse who gave evidence of their ordeal to Pope Francis in Rome, said the pontiff had also acted to slowly in handling the crisis.
Cruz said the Chilean church’s leaders, several of whom face criminal investigation for their roles in allegedly covering up abuse, had failed to follow through on their promises to institute reform.
“What we have in Chile is a veritable band of criminal bishops,” he said. “After visiting the pope, after everything that’s happened, that is happening with civil justice, they have learnt nothing.”
Church officials declined to comment.
The Chilean Catholic Church was engulfed by scandal after a visit by the pope in January last year that brought to the surface a string of abuse allegations now being investigated by criminal prosecutors.
After initially dismissing some claims, the pope later summoned Chile’s bishops to Rome for questioning after a Vatican investigation reported that they had been guilty of “grave negligence” in investigating abuse in the church.
The pope has accepted the resignations of seven Chilean bishops, and the country’s episcopal conference has vowed to tighten up child protection measures and work more closely with civil authorities to bring abusers to justice.
But the archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati, remains in his post despite facing abuse cover-up allegations - accusations that he, like most of the Chilean church’s senior leadership, denies.
Cruz and Murillo, both victims of the now-defrocked father Fernando Karadima, called for a wholesale overhaul of Chile’s church leadership.
Murillo called for “more women and lay church workers” to be made bishops in Chile.
Cruz said he believed the pope’s efforts to uncover abuse in the church were being hampered by powerful forces around him.
“I believe the pope’s apology to us was sincere, and I think he is trying with all his heart but not with the speed that the severity of these issues deserves,” Cruz said.
“It is so much that the pope needs help and people to support him. What has struck me is the number of people working against him in his close circle.”
Reporting by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Steve Orlofsky