SANTIAGO – Tempers are flaring up in Chile after Pope Francis accused the victims of a pedophile priest of ‘slander’ on Thursday.
The pontiff said there was “no proof” for their claims that abuse by Father Fernando Karadima had been covered up by another man, Bishop Juan Barros.
Until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, he says such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”
“There is not one single piece of proof against him (Bishop Barros). It is all slander. Is that clear?” the Pope said before celebrating Mass outside the city of Iquique in northern Chile.
“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” the Pope told journalists.
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.
Juan Carlos Cruz was one of the bishop’s accusers who was quick to condemn the Pope’s stance. “As if I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others with Juan Barros standing next to him watching everything,” he tweeted.
Does he need a photo, a selfie, as proof? Sorry Austen, we didn’t think of it as we were being abused and Juan Barros watching. https://t.co/IrNG587Gcj
— Juan Carlos Cruz Ch. (@jccruzchellew) January 18, 2018
“These people are absolutely crazy, and @Pontifex (the Pope’s Twitter handle) is talking about reparation to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
Another Barros accuser, James Hamilton, told a news conference the response revealed an “unknown face” of the pontiff.
“What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses,” he said..
Earlier in his Chile trip, Francis had met victims of sexual abuse by priests in the country. He cried with them and said he felt “pain and shame” over the scandal.
The US-based NGO Bishop Accountability says almost 80 members of Catholic clergy have been accused of child sex abuse in Chile since 2000.
Pope Francis arrived in Peru late on Thursday for a three-day visit which will conclude his two-nation South America trip.