Pope Francis and the Chilean scandal
By Diane Cooke
Pope Francis received a victim’s letter in 2015 that detailed sexual abuse at the hands of a priest and a cover-up by Chilean church authorities.
The letter was graphic not just in describing how the priest kissed and fondled a boy, but also in how other priests who saw the abuse tried to hush it up
The information contradicted the pope’s insistence that no victims had come forward to denounce the cover up, the letter’s author and members of Francis’ own sex- abuse commission told The Associated Press.
The fact that he received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has “zero tolerance” for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.
The scandal exploded last month when Francis’ trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defence of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of covering up the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
During the trip, Francis dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed him at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.
On the plane home, confronted by an AP reporter, the pope said: “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”
But members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver the letter from the victim Juan Carlos Cruz because they were alarmed by Francis’ recent appointment of Barros as a diocesan bishop. Cruz’s account of the abuse he suffered at Karadima’s hands had helped Vatican investigators decide to remove him from ministry and sentence him in 2011 to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.”
Barros was a Karadima protege, and according to Cruz and other victims, he witnessed the abuse and did nothing.
In March 2015, a Mass installing Barros as bishop of Osorno was marred by violent protests. Black-clad demonstrators stormed the church with signs that read, “No to Karadima’s accomplice.” Ten days later, the Vatican publicly defended Bishop Barros, saying it “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”
Last week the AP reported the contents of Cruz’s letter, which contradicts the Pope’s claim about no victims coming forward. Cruz wrote: “Holy Father, it’s bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse.”
Barros has repeatedly denied witnessing any abuse or covering it up. "I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined, the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims," he told the AP recently. "I have never approved of nor participated in such serious, dishonest acts, and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things."