Pope Francis drew ire and shock Thursday when he accused victims of Chile's notorious pedophile priest of slander. The Pope insisted that accusations of Bishop Juan Barros assistance in covering up the crimes of Rev. Fernando Karadima are false until he has seen adequate proof of complicity.
Many fail to understand how the victims were credible enough to lay charges against the priest but not enough to be believed regarding Barros' knowledge of the incidents.
The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and 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 wasn’t lacking.
The Pope fell out of favor after appointing Barros as bishop of the Osorno diocese. Victims of Karadima claim that Barros knew of the abuse but did nothing, and Barros denies any knowledge of what had happened.
Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”
Victim advocates were quick to respond:
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,” she said in a statement. “Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”