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Pope Francis Defends Bishop Accused of Protecting Pedophile Priest and Accuses Child Sexual Abuse Survivors of Slander

1/19/2018 1:14:00 PM
Jeffrey R. Anderson
The Pope’s Attack on Survivors is Horrifying

In Chile on Thursday, Pope Francis defended a bishop he appointed in 2015, even though the bishop was accused of protecting a pedophile priest.

He went further and accused the priest’s victims of slandering the bishop, demanding that they provide “proof” of their allegations, even though Pope Francis apparently has refused to meet with all of the priest’s victims to discuss what they know.

The Pope’s attack angered, horrified and re-traumatized survivors and is another, more frontal example of the Vatican protecting itself at the expense of clergy sexual abuse victims.

This week, Pope Francis visited Chile and Peru, countries where there is widespread anger regarding clergy abuse scandals. In 2015, the Pope appointed Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite allegations that Barros protected a priest – Fr. Fernando Karadima – whom the Vatican found guilty of child sexual abuse in 2011.

Karadima’s victims reported to Chilean prosecutors and Vatican investigators that Barros and other Karadima-trained bishops witnessed and tolerated Karadima’s abuse and did not report it. Pope Francis, in spite of his oft-repeated “zero tolerance” of clergy abuse and protests in Osorno, appointed Barros anyway and continues to defend him, calling opposition to Barros “stupid” and “unfounded.”

Days ahead of the Pope’s Chile visit, the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org released research showing that at least 78 priests or clergy had been credibly accused or convicted of sexually abusing minors in Chile. Karadima’s name is on that list.

On Tuesday in Chile, Pope Francis met with survivors of priests who sexually abused them. According to news reports, he wept with them, apologized for their pain, shame and damage, and vowed to commit to make sure such abuse never happens again.

We do not know who these victims are.

In Peru last week, the Vatican attempted to pre-empt the repercussions of a sexual abuse scandal by announcing days ahead of Pope Francis’ visit that it was taking over a Catholic movement –—Sodalicio—based there. The Vatican’s action came after Peruvian prosecutors announced intentions to arrest Sodalicio’s founder, Luis Figari, whom they suspect of abuse. One man who came forward as a Figari victim accused the Pope of “only putting up a show so nobody can say he did not do anything.”

Sounds familiar. The Vatican employs such damaging tactics - token publicity stunts to divert from the truth and protect itself chief among them - all over the world. In the United States, bishops have covered up clergy abuse while the Vatican has largely refused to hold them accountable. In Australia, Cardinal George Pell, the third-ranking Vatican official, was charged with sexual assault in June 2017. Shortly after the charges were announced, the Vatican issued a statement supporting Pell and failing to acknowledge the victims. Now the Pope is frontally attacking survivors.

Many see Pope Francis as a more open and understanding Pope. We just see more of the same.