Pope Francis has apologized after accusing sex abuse victims of slander in Chile. This comes after his visit to the South American country where the Catholic Church has had a shadow cast over it since 2011 when Rev. Fernando Karadima was sentenced to “a lifetime of penance and prayer” for molesting and fondling children.
In 2015, Francis appointed Juan Barros as the bishop of the diocese of Osorno. Barros was Karadima’s protégé, and several of Karadima’s victims have said that Barros knew of the abuse, but did nothing. Barros has denied the charges.
The pope was visiting Chile and Peru to speak about the troubles that indigenous people face, while also examining the fragility of the Amazonian ecosystem. While there he was met with the anger and frustration of people who had lost respect for the church. Prior to his arrival five churches in the Chilean capital of Santiago were vandalized with firebombs. Leaflets left at the churches warned, “The next bombs will be in your cassock.”
The Catholic Church in Chile has lost its moral authority after its mishandling of Karadima’s case, and Francis made matters worse last week when he was speaking to a journalist in Chile. When asked about the allegations against Barros, Francis 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?”
Pope Francis’s comments were immediately met with condemnation from Karadima’s victims, activist groups, and others. Anne Barrett Doyle, who administrates the online database BishopAccountability.org, said, “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?”
Francis made those comments on Thursday of last week, but after a few days of being skewered in the media he clearly realized he had made a PR mistake. Late Sunday, while on his papal plane, he had a small press conference where he issued an apology… of a sort. He still vehemently defended Barros. Francis said, “Here I have to apologize because the word ‘proof’ hurt them. It hurt a lot of abused people. I know how much they suffer. And to hear that the pope told them to their face that they need to bring a letter with proof? It’s a slap in the face.”
When speaking about his refusal to ask Barros to resign, Francis said, “I would be committing a crime of bad judgment.” Yes, because the crime of bad judgement here is asking for the resignation of a man who allegedly protected a serial child molester.
I have written before about Pope Francis’s dismal record about reforming the Catholic Church in regards to its rampant sex abuse scandal. Everyone’s darling pope is anything but, his leadership has done nothing to change things within the church in matters concerning the continued abuse of children.