SANTIAGO, Chile - Pope Francis’ visit to Chile has started very well with his apology to the victims of sexual violence in the church. However, on Tuesday, the Pope insulted and opened the old wounds to the victims of violence when he told the journalist about Barros the following: “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said before celebrating Mass outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”
Instead of repairing the damage from sexual abuse scandals, the pope’s comments stirred Chile and added more doubt to the credibility of the church.
Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious priest, was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and psychological abuse in Chile in February 2011 after several years of a Catholic canonical investigation. He was sent to a "life of prayer and penitence" and to "lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons." In 2015, Francis decided to appoint a protege of Karadima, Bishop Juan Barros, as bishop of the southern city of Osorno.
When people in Osorno protested the pope’s decision about Barros, Francis told a group of tourists visiting Vatican City in 2015 that those protesters were “dumb.” “The Osorno community is suffering because it’s dumb,” he said, according to video recorded by one of the tourists. The city had “let its head be filled with what politicians say, judging a bishop without any proof.”
“Pope Francis’ attack on the Karadima victims is a stunning setback,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that monitors abuse cases. “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?”
“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said that Francis had gone much further than other bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal. “Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: ‘By the way, I don’t think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,'” Navia said. Pope’s last statement is a bitter pill to swallow and it will certainly erase all the good that the Pope said or done about sexual violence in Chile.
According to the Associated Press, Francis had acknowledged the furor over the legacy of Father Karadima in a 2015 letter to the Chilean bishop’s conference. The letter said the pope proposed Bishop Barros and two other bishops go on sabbatical before taking up any new positions, a plan that ultimately fell apart.
Photo Credits: Military Health