Pope Francis’ handling of clerical sexual abuse is once again coming under scrutiny following news that he was handed a letter from a Chilean abuse victim which detailed the survivor's ordeal and that a future bishop witnessed it.
The news of a letter, reported by the Associated Press, contradicts the Pope’s insistence that victims of Fr Fernando Karadima had not come forward to complain about a cover-up by Bishop Juan Barros, who Francis appointed to lead the Diocese of Osorno in 2015.
“You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward,” Francis told journalists on the plane returning to Rome at the end of his six-day Latin America trip at the end of last month. He also said on the plane: “No one has come forward. They haven’t provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague. It’s something that can’t be accepted.”
But members of the papal child protection commission say they presented an eight-page letter written by Juan Carlos Cruz to Cardinal Sean O’Malley in April 2015. The cardinal is Francis’ top adviser on abuse. In the letter, Cruz makes detailed claims of the kissing and fondling that Karadima subjected him to, which he stressed Barros was a witness to. The intention was for the cardinal to then hand the letter to Francis.
“Cardinal O’Malley called me after the Pope’s visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the Pope — in his hands,” he told Associated Press on Sunday.
Francis has been heavily criticised for both his appointment - and continued defence - of Bishop Barros, who himself has offered to resign from his position on two occasions. During his visit to Chile, the Pope upset victims by telling reporters in Santiago that until he was presented with “proof” that Barros covered up the claims agains the bishop were “calumny.” And while he later apologised for these remarks on the plane back to Rome, Francis reiterated that evidence had not been presented to him.
In his letter - written in the Pope's native Spanish - Cruz reveals that Barros himself would be kissed and fondled by his mentor, Karadima, who was found guilty by a Vatican court in 2011 and ordered to live a life of prayer and penance. The abusive priest was a highly influential figure in church circles in Chile.
“More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue,” Cruz wrote in his letter to the Pope. “Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.”
Bishop Barros has strongly denied both covering up abuse and witnessing it. The Vatican and Cardinal O’Malley have not commented on the latest developments.
PICTURE: Catholics demonstrate in Osorno, Chile on January 4, 2018, outside the Cathedral against the Bishop of the city of Osorno Juan Barros questioned for his relationship with the priest Fernando Karadima who was found guilty of sexual abuse of minors with violence and abuse of his ecclesiastical power ©PA