Pope Francis asks forgiveness from sexual abuse victims but reaffirms support for Bishop Barros

Pope Francis listens to the speech by Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the government palace in Lima, Peru, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)

In an hour-long press conference on the plane from Lima to Rome, Jan. 21, Pope Francis asked pardon from the victims of sexual abuse by priests or religious for his use of words that offended them in his remarks about Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile. But he also reaffirmed his support for Bishop Barros, saying he has not received any evidence against him.

On Thursday Jan. 18, the pope told reporters on a plane flight in Chile, “The day they bring me proof against the bishop, then I will speak. There is not a single proof against him. This is calumny! Is that clear?” Francis stated.

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Responding to a question from a Chilean journalist today, Pope Francis spoke of “what the abused feel” regarding his remark.

“I must ask pardon [from them] because the word ‘proof’ has hurt many of the abused, and [what] I meant to ask for was ‘evidence.’ I ask forgiveness. It’s a hurt [caused] without wishing it,” Pope Francis said.

“I must ask pardon [from them] because the word ‘proof’ has hurt many of the abused, and [what] I meant to ask for was ‘evidence.’ I ask forgiveness.”

“I know that there are many abused people who cannot bring proof; they do not have it. Or they cannot [produce it], or at times they have it, but they are ashamed and that stops them, and they suffer in silence. The drama of abused persons is tremendous.”

Francis cited a case that he encountered two months ago when he met a 40-year-old woman who was abused. She was married and had three children, but though she was still Catholic, she had not received Communion since the time of her abuse “because in the hand of the priest she saw the hand of the abuser. She could not come close [to him].”

Francis said, “This causes me much pain because in Chile I received two [victims], as you know, and there were others more hidden.” He said he did not meet any victims in Peru. But he said “there is always the possibility” for such meetings. In Philadelphia, for example, Pope Francis’ meeting with three victims was made public but other meetings were not.

“I know how much they suffer. To hear that the pope tells them to their face ‘Give me a letter with the proof’ is a slap in the face.”

Pope Francis added: “I know how much they suffer. To hear that the pope tells them to their face ‘Give me a letter with the proof’ is a slap in the face. I acknowledge that my expression was not a happy one because I do not think [that way]. I understand what the apostle Paul said about the fire in a letter. That is what I tell you in sincerity.”

He said that “the case of Barros was studied,” and he “had it studied again, and there is no evidence. That is what I wanted to say. I do not have evidence to condemn him. If I condemn him without evidence or without moral certainty I would commit a crime of bad judgment.”

Pope Francis was then asked how he felt about Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s statement on Saturday—in which the cardinal said that the pope’s words were a source of pain for the abuse survivors and made them feel abandoned and discredited.

Francis said, “I thank him for the statement because it was very fair. He talked about everything that I have done and that I do and that the church does, and then he talked about the pain of the victims.

Pope Francis: “Pope Benedict started with zero tolerance on these issues, and I continue in this way with zero tolerance.”

“He also said that the pope always defended zero tolerance...[and] that I speak of the pain of the victims who are not able to bring a document or a witness.”

Francis spent more than half of the time answering questions about the case of Bishop Barros and his own comments in Iquique, Chile, last week, in which he asked for proof of the accusations against the bishop and denounced as “calumny” charges without evidence.

He revealed that Bishop Barros had twice submitted his resignation to him in one year, including before his installment as bishop of Osorno, Chile, but that he had refused it on both occasions. Francis again said: “He remains there [in Osorno], I cannot condemn him if I do not get the evidence. And there are many ways to obtain evidence.”

Pope Francis said, “Pope Benedict started with zero tolerance on these issues, and I continue in this way with zero tolerance.” He revealed that in his five years as pope had received “20 to 25 requests for pardon” from priests who had been condemned in an ecclesiastical tribunal for the abuse of minors. But, he said, “I have not granted one of them.”

The pope’s claim of not having evidence against Bishop Barros raises some unanswered questions. Three known victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima—Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo (who now runs a nonprofit organization for victims in Chile) and James Hamilton—allege that Bishop Barros was present when Father Karadima abused them and witness the abuse but did nothing.

Did any of them present their evidence to the church in Chile or the Vatican? If not, why not? At least one of them gave testimony in a civil tribunal. Has any church investigator examined these allegations?

At the press conference, Pope Francis was also asked about the Papal Commission for the Protection of Minors. Its mandate ended in December and has not yet been renewed. He was told that some people wonder if this lapse is a sign that the protection of victims is not a priority.

But the pope confirmed that the commission will continue and revealed that on the Tuesday before he left for Chile and Peru he received and approved “the definitive list” of the membership of the new commission.

“Some but not all of the members of the old commissions have been reconfirmed,” Francis said, “while a number of new members have been added.”

He explained the question of the commission “was studied” and that “the commission itself, decided to renew a part [of the original members] and to nominate new ones.”

As for the time lag between the expiration of the first commission and the announcement of the nominations to the second, Francis explained that “it follows the normal procedure of the curia” in terms of nominations. “There were some observations about some [nominations] that needed to be clarified because they study the curriculum vitae of the new persons.

“There were two observations that needed to be clarified. But Cardinal O’Malley works well, as he should. The time [it takes] are the normal times of the curia for nominations of this kind.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jacob Richardson
8 months 4 weeks ago

Pope Francis is a vile disgrace.

Ellen B
8 months 4 weeks ago

There is already distrust of the church & its hierarchy because of decades of payments & cover ups. Into this situation, he moved a divisive bishop into an opening. Now he gets defensive about criticism. Pope Francis created this fiasco.

Battista Castigglia
8 months 4 weeks ago

REALLY, Francis? Their's no-one else that can fill this position besides Bishop Barros? Career clergy at work again!

James Haraldson
8 months 4 weeks ago

When has he ever hesitated to accuse and reduce pastors who recognize that moral principles are not diminished by situations, if they are applicable, as being guilty of being caricatures of "rigidity" without evidence?

Will Niermeyer
8 months 4 weeks ago

I am very sure that the Pope knows far more about this than we do. I am also very sure that he spoke to this Bishop personally and between that and all the evidence that was gathered is able to say he has no credible evidence against the Bishop. None of this is taken lightly in terms of gathering information to prove the guilt or innocence of a cleric accused of such crime.

James Haraldson
8 months 4 weeks ago

What makes you so sure? Where is there evidence that his dealings with any subordinate have ever been honest either favorable or unfavorable?

Justin Ramza
8 months 4 weeks ago

Like it or not, the tradition of the Latin patriarch is that he stands judged by no one. Like his explanation or not, I personally am glad he offered it. His charge of calumny was disturbing. At least this gives context to his intention.

Al Cannistraro
8 months 4 weeks ago

It is interesting to me to consider the contrast between this insistence upon (presumably) concrete evidence of guilt of this accused man vs. the squishy assumptions generally made regarding faith-based doctrinal beliefs. It illustrates contrasting mindsets depending on which hat one is wearing at the moment: chief administrator vs. spiritual leader.

Vincent Gaglione
8 months 3 weeks ago

The issue of sexual abuse has been so horribly mishandled by bishops as to thwart to date any efforts to restore a just process to investigate and verify claims. The first piece of advice that I received as a new teacher from an experienced female colleague was: never be alone with a child with the classroom door closed! That might equally apply to clerics!

The public relations effects of the Chilean matter provide the basis for so much of the negativity, doubts, and disbelief that are expressed in the comments here. The truth, if it ever existed, has been muddied if not totally lost in all the reporting of the incidents, the comments of the Pope and the victims, and a host of opinion writers.

The Bishop’s offers of resignation should have been accepted, characterized plainly as submitted for the reputation and good of the Church. In one sense, if not guilty of the accusations, it would have been a reparation offered up for all the crimes never adjudicated properly for the alleged same reason.

Justin Ramza
8 months 3 weeks ago

Good points. Actually, very good points.

Kevin Murphy
8 months 3 weeks ago

Let's review. Awards to abortion-rights supporters. Browbeating sexual abuse victims. Today's news, bowing to the Chinese Communist leadership on the authority of bishops. And that's only this month. Add that to communion for adultery, hammer and sickle crucifixes, theology by footnotes, etc. It is finally becoming apparent to many what a disaster this papacy has been.

Justin Ramza
8 months 3 weeks ago

Let's not mince words. How do you really feel?

rose-ellen caminer
8 months 3 weeks ago

You are not required to believe an allegation of abuse or of cover up just because its asserted. The scandal for the church has been the cover up. This is nothing new. The pope has said the matter of THIS bishop was looked into and there was no evidence he was guilty. The pope did the right thing in standing by the bishop. You can't just act on hearsay and condemn someone just to appease the angry mob. That the pope was piqued in his initial response; "this is calumny, is that clear?"' is refreshing. It shows he can discern for himself ;he has a backbone and is not just swaying with the wind.
That he expressed regret at the choice of the word "proof", when of course victims often have no proof, shows his consideration for others and his humility. His acknowledging that his use of the word, caused pain to victims and that he regrets using that word, and asking forgiveness of those victims he hurt, shows he is not about justifying himself and everything he does . He can admit to being wrong. He has compassion for these victims even as he will stand by someone that politically it is not in the interest to do so, We Christians are not utilitarians. Throwing the bishop under the bus by accepting his resignation as a concession to those who call him a sexual predator of children and a facilitator of sexual abuse of children,[ he's both; is the allegation; is that a first?] would have satisfied many people and bolstered the popes reputation and that of the church [ another indication the church was serious about taking responsibility for the sex abuse cover up scandal], but it does not justify doing so. Calumny is a sin and the pope will not sin along ;he has a responsibility to all his sheep, including a bishop.

Al Cannistraro
8 months 3 weeks ago

Based on all the anti-Francis commentary here and elsewhere coming from conservative and tradition-bound Catholics, Francis needs to keep as many allies and friends in high places as he can.

As an independent thinker who is trying to make somewhat counter-cultural course corrections that he sees as necessary for the long-term health of the change-resistant world organization he heads, Francis very much needs to avoid unnecessarily alienating any more bishops than he has to.

And as a Spanish-speaking Latin American who probably misses home and who is stuck in a foreign culture for the rest of his life, Francis probably is particularly loathed to cut down Bishop Barros, a cultural compatriot whom is he sees as the target of thus-far-unsubstantiated complaints.

I feel that Francis is doing the smart and the right thing. If his judgement will prove to be correct in the long run, it will turn out to be the wise thing as well.

Unfortunately for Francis, it isn't the popular thing, at least at the moment, and it provides more ammo to his many enemies.

That's politics.

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