Chile: Pope Francis stirs outrage with 'slander' comment

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

File photo of Pope Francis, 2014.
Image: Jeon Han.

On Thursday, Roman Catholic Pope Francis, on a tour of South America, spoke to the press in Chile on his last day in the country. When asked by a local journalist about Bishop Juan Barros, who has been accused of covering up sexual abuse by another priest, the Pope responded: "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 [slander]. Is that clear?"

According to multiple news outlets, this did not sit well with many Chileans. The aforementioned Bishop Juan Barros was the protégé of priest Fernando Karadima who was found guilty in 2011 by the Vatican of dozens of abuses against minors since the 1980s. Barros, who rose above his mentor, is alleged to have protected Karadima for years.

Victims of Karadima decried the Pope's remark. "We feel absolutely betrayed by what Pope Francis said, and about his incoherence, because he asks for forgiveness on one side and then says victims are lying," said Juan Carlos Cruz in an interview on Friday. "We will not be bullied by anybody no matter how powerful they are." Cruz has alleged that Barros was present when Karadima groped and kissed him.

James Hamilton, who also says he was a victim, told a press conference: "What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses".

Bishop Alejandro Goic spoke of Barros in a radio interview: "It left me with a bitter taste that a brother of mine occupied a leading role [in the abuse scandal] that was not good." Not all were against the Pope. Bishop Santiago Silva stated, "Without reserve, we support what Pope Francis said".

Earlier in Pope Francis's visit to Chile he met with victims of abuse by clergy. Francis also said: "I cannot help but express the pain and shame, shame that I feel over the irreparable harm caused to children by church ministers," while speaking in Stantiago, the capital city of Chile. "Is it fair to ask for forgiveness?"