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Pope shocks Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slander

Pope Francis, right, arrives on the altar to celebrate a Mass at the Maquehue Air Base in Temuco, Chile, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Francis paid homage to Chileans who were tortured or killed at the air base, used as a detention center during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander, 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 Karadimas, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”

The pope’s remarks on Thursday (Jan. 18) 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.”

The Karadima scandal dominated Francis’ visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church cover-up was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

Karadima’s victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as bishop of the southern Diocese of Osorno. Karadima’s victims say Barros knew of the abuse, having seen it, but did nothing. Barros has denied the allegations.

His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno Diocese and further undermined the church’s already shaky credibility in the country.

Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Francis had defended the appointment before, calling the Osorno controversy “stupid” and the result of a campaign mounted by leftists. But The Associated Press reported last week that the Vatican was so worried about the fallout from the Karadima affair that it was prepared in 2014 to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and go on a yearlong sabbatical.

According to a Jan. 31, 2015, letter obtained by AP from Francis to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference, the plan fell apart and Barros was sent to Osorno.

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who have mounted a three-year campaign against Barros, questioned why Francis was now accusing the victims of slandering Barros when the Vatican was so convinced of their claims that it planned to remove him in 2014.

“Isn’t the pastoral problem that we’re living (in Osorno) enough to get rid of him?” Claret asked.

The reference was to the fact that — guilty or not — Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don’t recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.

Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database BishopAccountability.org, said it was “sad and wrong” for the pope to discredit the victims since “the burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims — and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed.”

“He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis,” she said in a statement. “Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”

Indeed, Catholic officials for years accused victims of slandering and attacking the church with their claims. But up until Francis’ words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.

German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago’s Universidad Mayor, said the pope’s comments were a “tremendous error” that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.

Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said Francis had gone much further than Chilean bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal, which many Chileans appreciated.

“Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: ‘By the way, I don’t think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,'” Navia said, adding that the comment will probably erase any goodwill the pope had won over the issue.

Navia said the Karadima scandal had radically changed how Chileans view the church.
“In the typical Chilean family, parents (now) think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen,” Navia said.

(Associated Press writers Peter Prengaman and Eva Vergara contributed to this report.)

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  • Frank said some priests had even been insulted in the subway or walking on the street, and that by wearing clerical attire they had “paid a heavy price.”

    Wow, that is indeed a heavy price to pay. And now Frank is taking about Barros’s heavy price that he has had to pay: CALUMNY!!!! Oh, noes!

    And yet Karadima is still a free man, though having to say a boat load full of hail Mary’s in penance. And Barros is still a bishop, despite the apparently, on occasion, credibility of the accusations.
    Well, its off to the Pointy Hat Store!

  • I think that the Pope was wrong headed to make this comment and it’s going to evaporate whatever good will he gained form the apology he made in Chile. And it shows the tone deafness of the Vatican.

    Having said that I think we also have to point something out which doesn’t get discussed as much. There is a difference between someone being accused, charged, and convicted. Someone being accused of a crime doesn’t mean they committed the crime. I’m not saying “blame the victim” because there is way too much victim blaming. But we can’t take a guilty until proven innocent stance because that can be dangerous and I’ll give two direct examples in the Catholic Church of how.

    In 2012 in Ireland there was a priest named Fr. Kevin Reynolds who was accused of raping a Kenyan woman while doing missionary work. The news outlets there ran whole investigative reports assuming a guilty until proven stature. When the evidence came in it showed he was completely innocent of any wrong doing and the news stations came out and all apologized to him. But the damage was already done.

    Just recently, in St Louis, there was a Asian American priest named Fr. Joseph Jiang. Accused of sexual assault by SNAP and other organizations. He was brought to court and the case became very ugly. When they couldn’t prove that he actually committed the crime I read in some areas they racially profiled him just to get charges laid. The charges were later dropped because he was found not guilty and SNAP(Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) had to come out and apologize.

    So people have to be careful of this assumption that every priest or bishop accused of crime or covering up a crime is actually guilty.

  • This pimple,.. including his HRCC Vatican hierarchy, only pops under pressure! And it’s been that way for well over a thousand years!

    And it takes a lot of it to get this windbag, this vicar of hypocrisy, to say anything serious about it,.but to actually do something significant his feet like those of nearly all his predecessors drag and drag,.the shoes of the fisherman sure have gotten tar heal sticky in the last nearly 2000 yrs!

    Took all these “Vicars of Christ” until 1992 to even admit their wrong about the Great Scientist Galileo Galilei and apologize for their evil actions in 1663 by placing him under house arrest for life and threatening him with horrendous torture if he did not stop writing and teaching,.that the sun was at the center and the earth circled it,..”heck no,.the Earth was the center of it all,.and you damn well better not teach anything else!” It took these supposed representatives of Truth Incarnate 359 years to come reluctantly publicly and say “Oops, yeah, about that guy Galileo, actually we were totally in the wrong and we are so sorry,..but,,(here comes the but monkey:) but Galilieo kinda asked for it, cuz he was so arrogant about it, as if it were Gospel or something,.but yeah we were wrong,.our bad,. kinda sorry about that now”,..they did this only after great public pressure and unendurable constant embarrassment,.they tried ridiculously to keep the fig leaf on even when it became the size of a clover leaf, and even today the Vatican will still equivocal about their actions against Galileo with constant but monkeys.

    And what about dear Giordano Bruno, the mathematician and planetary theorist who hypothesized that stars were but distance suns having planets of their own? Well,..these spiritual Roman Catholic Church wonders slowly roasted him in 1600,.with nails in his mouth mind you, so he would not spread his “lies” as he was exquisitely cremated alive as a warning to others! These vicars of Christ still have not quite got around to soundly apologizing for that act they committed 418 years ago,..so why should they need to get serious with this issue now,..besides,..talk is so cheap. Didn’t Jesus talk about the tree and its rotten fruit?

    Luke 6:43-45 New King James Version
    A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit
    “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil.

    Yes,..it is true that evil sex abuse has happened in diverse settings,..religious and non-religious organizations. The significant difference is that usually that organization or “tree” immediately rejects the branch that produced the wicked fruit as well as the whole branch, it rejects it as you would an virus,..with the bad fruit,..because it was a good tree at its roots and the branch that produced the evil fruit was grafted on without its knowledge.
    History shows the world clearly that this tree called The Holy Roman Catholic Church has had a very, very, long time to change, and it would have had its roots been good. Bad fruit, bad seed, bad roots, bad tree, bad fruit.

  • And so once again true colors are shown. Maybe John Calvin and Martin Luther were right about the Roman church.

  • And here we are again a church of contradictions……is it any wonder there is so much disarray?
    What message is it sending..
    I wonder how Francis Sullivan CEO of Australia’s Truth Justice and Healing Commission is going play this down with the Royal Commissions findings taking into account he’s being paid by the ABC.
    I know a few who privately will be giving a standing ovation……

  • And in Australia the case of a magistrate finding a priest guilty have had an appeal upheld due to a politician and ex seminarian’s personal reference and later forced to be laicised “due to further investigation”.
    Then there are those who can’t speak up when an accused is found guilty by the church itself and forced to sign confidentialities…….

  • In Australia more than one case against a priest has been dropped not because he was innocent but not enough evidence to receive conviction.
    There is a difference.

  • So the Pope believes that the burden of proof lies with the accuser rather than the accused, who’d a’thunk it?

  • He didn’t say there wasn’t enough evidence, but that there was none. That the accusations, including accusations from victims who say Barros was there, are calumny.He called the victims liars. You may want a nuanced conversation, but the pope clearly doesn’t.

  • So he must have something to meet his burden of proof, seeing as he just said the victims who say Barros was present during their abuse were guilty of calumny.

  • Victims say Barros was there because they SAW HIM THERE. What other evidence must they gather before daring to utter a word about their actual experiences? Must victims somehow obtain evidence from multiple sources before daring to make a complaint? How would that work? And how is it distinguishable from just telling victims to keep their mouth shut forever because otherwise they might hurt someone who actually matters?

  • Do you believe that people should be held guilty of serious crimes based on the unsupported word of witnesses?

  • If they are credible, yes. Particularly when there are several. It’s often the only possible evidence. But that’s beside the point. He accused those victims of not just being mistaken, but of committing calumny. Yet he has not produced any evidence to support an affirmative finding that they are defaming Barros. It’s a bare assertion, and unlike them, he would have no direct personal knowledge of the events in question since he wasn’t there.

  • Could that happen under the #me too movement? Never because all ” accusers” are truthful and the “accused” is always guilty because someone said so no matter what . We can dispense with trials or the laws covering defamation, slander and libel.

  • I have watched the Australian cases and I agree. But we’re speaking about the specific accusations against Bishop Barros that he covered up. If there is specific evidence that we can verify then he should be sacked, potentially jailed, and Francis should come out, apologize, and recognize that he made a huge mistake in even appointing him.

    If there isn’t any evidence that we have at this moment, we can’t make any judgements just because he is accused. That’s all I am saying. The Pontiff was tone deaf in his statement(he sometimes is by the way, which is the down side of his characteristic bluntness) but we need to strike a very careful balance here. On the one hand not silencing victims. On the other hand not rushing to judgement and assuming everyone accused it guilty.

  • “The reference was to the fact that — guilty or not — Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don’t recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.”

    So the laity and priests protested and refused to recognize this Barros character as their bishop. That’s the kind of leadership we see in Protestant churches, where old guys wearing dresses don’t try to tell us what to do, then turn around and cover up the pedophiles in this big worldwide church. This headline and spotlight-grabbing pope could take some lessons from these people of conscience.

    That’s my two cents’ worth.

  • OK, so … the Pope begged forgiveness from the victims, but a couple days later accused them of slander. 

    Hmmmm. 

    I’m trying to figure out what kind of universe this makes even the slightest bit of sense … but it’s not coming to me. Must be because I’m a cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen, and am not allowed to comprehend such lofty, sacred notions. 

    Or something. I guess. 

  • Happens all the time, in courtrooms around the world. Eyewitness testimony is often used to get convictions. Most people consider it compelling evidence — especially when multiple different people separately tell the same story. It’s called “confirmation.” 

    Except for the Pope and for Catholic apologists. In that case, not only is it “not evidence” of anything, it’s actually all lies and therefore slander

    Because the Holy Church can never be wrong. I guess. I mean, it must be the case, right? 

  • And how do you determine whether they are credible? Certainly you don’t just take their word for it? As for the calumny charge, as I asked earlier, what would you call leveling serious accusations against someone without proof?

  • Eyewitness testimony, when it is supported by other evidence. Besides, my question wasn’t whether it happens but SHOULD it happen?

  • When the eyewitnesses are credible and they confirm each other independently, yes. In those cases, why should they not be believed? 

  • OK, so go ahead and use whatever you can dig up to justify defending your Holy Mother Church at all costs. Even when separate eyewitnesses have confirmed each other, you just keep on insisting they’ve all lied. Please. Continue. Don’t let little old me stop you from denying what your own Church has done — not only in Chile, but all around the world, and for many decades. 

  • I’m not Catholic. I simply believe that when people level serious accusations against someone they need to prove their case, and that in cases of “he said/he said” the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused. And when did I say that the accusers lied? Unproven is just that — unproven.

  • So … he accuses them of calumny and says they are lying, and that he wants evidence. What’s his evidence for his allegation?

  • So, Frank, without a shred of evidence, is accusing eye witnesses of bearing false witness.
    OK, then!

  • Re: “… in cases of “he said/he said” the benefit of the doubt goes to the accused.” 

    First of all, it’s not actually clear that this is merely a case of “he said, she said.” It’s more like, “he said, but he and he and he and he and he said something else.” Second, there’s a difference between giving someone “the benefit of the doubt,” and claiming that person’s accusers are guilty of “slander.” A very big difference. 

    I get that the Pope doesn’t like that his bestie has been accused of covering up for a raging pedophile. But, grown adults are able to handle their BFFs being accused of things, without getting their panties in bunches and going off on people without good reason. 

    And the Pope is FAR too old to be acting like a sniveling little child. I get that immaturity is common these days — in fact, there’s a worldwide pandemic of it roaring through humanity, lately — but too bad so sad for little baby Francis. He can, and should, be expected to act like an adult, and I for one will settle for nothing less. 

    Of course, you’re free to join in with his juvenile bellyaching … but that’s your choice. 

    Re: “Unproven is just that — unproven.” 

    I’ts only “unproven” because the Pope has said it was “unproven.” In fact, multiple eyewitnesses have relayed similar accounts. They back each other up. If you wish to parrot the Pope’s line that this is all “unproven,” well, go right ahead … but that cannot and will never magically make it “unproven,” anywhere other than inside yours and the Pope’s heads. 

  • See my link above on the problems with eyewitness testimony. So yes, a number of witnesses to different events with one event per witness isn’t automatically believable, it is when multiple witnesses to the same event corroborate each others’ stories that it becomes more credible.

  • I get that you disapprove of eyewitness testimony … I simply don’t care that you do.

    As for corroboration, that can never be achieved if you reflexively and subjectively dismiss any and all eyewitness accounts. So your position is self-contradictory and thus ridiculous.

  • “I get that the Pope doesn’t like that his bestie has been accused of covering up for a raging pedophile.”

    Not a “raging pedophile,” but a homosexual predator acting out sexually in a particularly warped way on his intrinsically disordered same-sex attraction. The primary factor in Father Karadima’s choice of victims was the SEX of the victim, not the victim’s age. (Quite aside from that, if Father Karadima’s victims were adolescent boys rather than pre-pubescent boys, that would make him a predatory homosexual ephebophile, rather than a predatory homosexual pedophile.)

    As per the 2002 John Jay report on the priest sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. (and it is the same elsewhere within the Catholic Church): the priest sexual abuse scandal is overwhelmingly a HOMOSEXUAL PREDATOR scandal (over 80% of the credible sexual abuse accusations fall into that category).

  • Re: “Not a ‘raging pedophile,’ but a homosexual predator acting out sexually in a particularly warped way on his intrinsically disordered same-sex attraction.” 

    Oh, I see. You’re going to deflect from any discussion of Karadima’s criminality — and other Church officials’ covering for it — by launching into a largely-irrelevant semantic dissertation on the nature of the exact offenses he committed. 

    That might sound impressive and all, to defenders of the Church such yourself, except it doesn’t make Karadima any less a criminal and therefore doesn’t make the Church any less culpable for covering up for him. 

    Re: “As per the 2002 John Jay report on the priest sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. (and it is the same elsewhere within the Catholic Church): the priest sexual abuse scandal is overwhelmingly a HOMOSEXUAL PREDATOR scandal (over 80% of the credible sexual abuse accusation fall into that category).” 

    Again, you’re deflecting by cluttering the issue with semantics. The real problem here is that priests were assaulting people and the hierarchs protected and enabled them. Again, none of your deflection does the slightest thing to mitigate what the abusive priests did or the Church’s collusion in their criminality. 

    Thank you for living down to all my expectations of Catholicism apologists. I couldn’t have done a better job, myself, of exposing you as the vile, criminal-loving reprobates you are. Well done! You must be SO proud! 

  • I don’t disapprove of eyewitness testimony, it can be vital. What I oppose is holding someone guilty based on a single uncorroborated witness per event.

  • Re: “What I oppose is holding someone guilty based on a single uncorroborated witness per event.” 

    What part of “it’s not merely “a single uncorroborated witness per event” do you not comprehend? Multiple reports have come in describing the same thing. Why would you deny that? And why would you support the Pope’s contention that all of these accounts are “slander”? A single uncorroborated report is — if that’s all we have (but it’s not) — is not necessarily “slander.” Why do you, and the Pope, say it is? 

    Remember … contending “slander” also happens to require affirmative evidence of being “slander.” Or did you forget that, in your zeal to defend your Church and the Pope? 

  • You may appreciate a little update on the way “we do it”, not that you’re expected to understand being a non-Catholic it’s hard enough for those who are, whether practicing or not.
    Once again I re-iterate I’m not an advocate of the relevant site but the writer of the below certainly does, being an ex-priest and lawyer among other things.

    http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=207932

  • The Pope still used the word. If he hadn’t meant to use it, he never should have let it cross his lips. 

    What’s more, his “clarification” contains an implicit accusation of slander. Here’s how: First, he goes over the idea that if someone repeatedly accuses someone of something without offering “proof” (or “evidencias” or whatever the word of the day happens to be), that’s slander, in principle. Next, he says the accusers have repeatedly made allegations, but haven’t made them to him (?) so that constitutes accusations without “proof” (or “evidencias” or whatever the word of the day happens to be). 

    So yes, he doubled back and said “slander” was an “unfortunate expression.” But then he proceeds actually to rationalize having used it, based on a bogus assertion — i.e. the multiple eyewitness accounts don’t constitute “proof” (or “evidencias” or whatever the word of the day happens to be) because the accusers didn’t deliver their testimonies in person to the Pope himself. 

    I’m not a betting man, but I’d almost be willing to bet there never was any chance of Barros’ accusers meeting the Pope personally to deliver their accounts directly to him. They have only a slightly better chance than I do of ever being able to meet him, and there’s less than a zero chance of that. 

    The fact is, those eyewitness accounts are a matter of record elsewhere, and don’t magically become untrue because they weren’t delivered in person to the Pope. If you ask me, that’s a pretty damned childish and self-centered definition of “proof” (or “evidencias” or whatever the word of the day happens to be). 

  • ….If he hadn’t meant to use it, he never should have let it cross his lips. ..

    I’m with you on that, out of the abundance of the heart….

  • So how many of these witnesses had other witnesses able to back up their stories rather than offer stories of their own? How many of these witnesses shared stories?

  • That was an interesting read, thank you. And yeah, it seems that the longer a bureaucracy exists, the more labyrinthine its procedures can become. I do like the distinction made between evidence and proof — offering evidence doesn’t automatically prove a case.

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