After commiserating with abuse survivors in Chile, Pope Francis – to the astonishment and fury of many – then accused them of slandering Bishop Juan Barros just before he left the country this week.
Chileans have no doubt that Barros, pictured above in 2015 being targeted by protesters, covered up the activities of Chile’s most notorious Catholic paedophile, the Reverend Fernando Karadimas.
But, according to this report, before leaving Chile where he received a less than enthusiastic welcome the Pope said:
The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?
This shocked Chileans and brought an immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates.
They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011.
A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes was not lacking.
Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database BishopAccountability.org, said it was “sad and wrong” for the pope to discredit the victims since:
The burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims – and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed. He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?
Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: ‘By the way, I don’t think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof’.
Navia added that the comment will probably erase any goodwill the pope had won over the issue.
The Pope’s top adviser on clerical sex abuse, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, above, the archbishop of Boston, also rebuked the pontiff over his accusations of slander, saying that Francis’ words were
A source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse.
O’Malley, who headed Francis’ much-touted committee for the protection of minors, said he could not explain why Francis “chose the particular words he used”.
In an effort at damage control, O’Malley insisted that Francis:
Fully recognises the egregious failures of the church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones.