Pope Francis has launched an astonishing attack on the victims of a pedophile priest, saying that those who publicly accused a bishop of covering up sexual abuse are themselves guilty of slander.
The pope made the comments on Thursday as he brought his six-day visit to Chile to an end. The trip was seen by many as a bid to revive the church’s credibility in the South American country after a sex scandal in which Bishop Juan Barros was accused of concealing the crimes of the pedophile Reverend Fernando Karadima. Barros has denied the claims.
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 [defamation]. Is that clear?”
Karadima was first reported to the church in 2002 over allegations he would kiss and fondle his adolescent parishioners in the Chilean capital of Santiago. An official Vatican investigation was launched in 2010 after his victims went public with their complaints. While the Catholic Church removed him from the ministry and sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2011, Karadima escaped criminal charges because the statute of limitations had elapsed.
Speaking at a news conference, activists James Hamilton, Juan Carlos Cruz and Jose Andres Murillo condemned the pope’s remarks, telling reporters: “This is serious and we cannot accept it. What he has done today is offensive and painful, and it also reveals an unknown face of the pontiff.”
Cruz, one of Karadima’s most vocal accusers, earlier tweeted that the pope’s defense of Barros meant that his “forgiveness remains empty.”
“As if I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others with Juan Barros standing next to him watching it all,” he wrote. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed.”
The pope stoked the controversy in 2015 when he appointed Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno. Francis called the subsequent outrage over the appointment “stupid” and blamed it on a campaign mounted by the country’s leftist activists.
In an interview with AP, German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago’s Universidad Mayor, said the pope’s comments were a “tremendous error” that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.
Like this story? Share it with a friend!