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News > Latin America

'Hurtful': Pope Accuses Chilean Sexual Abuse Victims of Slander

  • Pope Francis holds a cross during a meeting with youth in Santiago.

    Pope Francis holds a cross during a meeting with youth in Santiago. | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 January 2018

The remarks were made by the pontiff in a unplanned exchange with reporters who asked him about controversial Archbishop Juan Barros.

Before saying goodbye to Chile on Thursday, Pope Francis made unfortunate remarks regarding the sexual abuse victims who accuse the current Archbishop of Osorno Juan Barros of covering up for the crimes of Chilean priest Fernando Karadima.

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As the pontiff exited the popemobile he approached a group of reporters, some of whom asked about Barros. The pope responded: “The day I receive proof against Archbishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one proof against him, it’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

This was the first time during his Chile visit the Pope referred to Barros’ case. His response was recorded by two local radio stations.

Earlier that day the Archbishop of Santiago de Chile claimed the accusations are “a made-up controversy, without grounds.” However, Barros’ main accuser Juan Carlos Cruz has reiterated on many occasions that Barros was present when Karadima touched his genitals and forced Cruz to kiss him.

Shortly after the pontiff’s attack, three of Karadima accusers, Jose Andres Murillo, Juan Carlos Cruz and James Hamilton, who claim Barros witnessed the abuse and didn’t denounce it, rejected the pope’s support.

“This is extremely grave and we believe that it finally reveals an unknown side of the pope and the Chilean hierarchy,” Hamilton said in a press conference.

Hamilton added the pope’s comment were “offensive and hurtful” for those who struggle to make the Catholic church a “less abusive” space.  

Furthermore, Carlos Cruz, responded via Twitter to the pope’s demand for proof saying: “As if I could’ve taken a selfie or a picture while Karadima abused me or others with Juan Barros standing aside seeing all of it. This people at the top are crazy and @Pontifex_es talks of reparations for victims. We continue the same and his apology remains empty.”

Barros’ appointment as Archbishop of Osorno by Pope Francis in 2015 sparked protest among Karadima’s victims, lay people and even among the Jesuit order whose members have asked Barros to step down.

The pope’s visit to Chile was overshadowed by protests against the Chilean church’s involvement in sexual abuse. According to United States-based NGO Bishop Accountability, in Chile almost 80 clergymen have sexually abused children since 2000. Pope Francis was met with nationwide protests against sexual abuse that resulted in at least 100 people detained and at least 9 violent attacks on churches.

The pontiff met with sexual abuse victims in a private session Tuesday that lasted 30 minutes, in which, according to the pope’s spokesperson Greg Burke, Francis, "listened to them, prayed and cried with them." However, many asked for concrete action that has yet to come.

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