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Chile victims of clergy sex abuse praise talks with pope

Sex abuse victims James Hamilton (left) and Juan Carlos Cruz waved as they stood on a terrace overlooking St. Peter's Square during a prayer celebrated by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Sunday.
Sex abuse victims James Hamilton (left) and Juan Carlos Cruz waved as they stood on a terrace overlooking St. Peter's Square during a prayer celebrated by Pope Francis, at the Vatican, Sunday. Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — 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 clergy abuse survivors the pope invited to Italy after he discounted some of their assertions, tweeted that his more than two hours of conversation with Francis were ‘‘enormously constructive.’’

A second, Jose Andres Murillo, posted on Twitter that he stressed the importance of understanding sexual abuse as ‘‘abuse of power’’ during his time with the pope. The third man, Juan Carlos Cruz, was due to meet with Francis on Sunday.

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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.’’ After his remarks provoked an outcry, the pope asked them to be his guests at the Vatican City hotel where he lives.

Francis has requested the Holy See not reveal the contents 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.

Cruz said in a tweet he was happy to see that his friends ‘‘calm and in peace and feeling very welcome by the Holy Father’’ after their visits with Francis.

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

While in Chile at the beginning of the year, Francis demanded proof of their allegation that a bishop he appointed to a diocese there, Juan Barros, was aware of their abuse. The men have repeatedly contended that Barros witnessed Karadima abusing them and did nothing, an assertion Barros denied.

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The pontiff maintained he had no evidence of Barros’s wrongdoing. The Associated Press has reported that Francis did have evidence, including a letter from Cruz that spelled out Barros’s wrongdoing. The letter was given to Francis’ top adviser on the sex abuse crisis.

Francis has since reversed his position, blaming his January remarks on a lack of ‘‘truthful and balanced’’ information reaching him regarding Barros.

In as separate development Sunday, the pope decried an attack on a church in Nigeria that killed 15 people, including two priests.

In his remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff prayed that Nigeria’s Christian community can find harmony and peace.

The massacre last week occurred in Benue state in central Nigeria, which has recently seen a series of attacks, many linked to an ongoing dispute between farmers and herdsmen.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has described the attacks on churches as an attempt to stoke religious conflict.