The Associated Press reports:
Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country. Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”
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.
“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
More from the BBC:
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.
More from the New York Times:
The pope’s comments set off a storm in Chile, raising questions about his commitment to repairing the damage from sexual abuse scandals and improving the decline in the church’s image and following in the traditionally devout country.
“Pope Francis’ attack on the Karadima victims is a stunning setback,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that monitors abuse cases. “He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”
Despite the allegations against Father Barros, Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno, in southern Chile, in 2015. Dozens of priests and legislators said they opposed the move. The pope told a group of tourists visiting Vatican City in 2015 that people in Orsono who protested the appointment were “dumb.”