It seems the shine is coming off the papal penny among leftist secular journalists, his natural constituency. Writing for the Boston Globe, the paper that first broke the clerical sex abuse scandals all the way back in 2001, Kevin Cullen wrote, “Let the record show that the promise of Pope Francis died in Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 18, in the year of our Lord 2018… he has revealed himself like no one else could.”
But it gets worse than this. When a “leftist” pope pressing a secularist agenda on the Church starts to lose the support of Michael Sean Winters and the National Catholic Reporter, he must know he’s in trouble. Though he’s “sticking with Francis” for now, Winters wrote, “I wish I knew what it was about Pope Francis that makes him fail to grasp the situation with Bishop Barros, the pain caused to the victims and the damage done to the church. I am gobsmacked that the pope twice declined to accept the bishop’s resignation.”
On January 23rd, an unsigned NCR editorial opined, “Within the space of four days, Pope Francis twice slandered abuse survivors.”
“These remarks are at the least shameful. At the most, they suggest that Francis now could be complicit in the cover-up. The script is all too familiar: Discredit the survivors’ testimony, support the prelate in question, and bank on public attention moving on to something else.
“The insistence with which Francis defends Barros is mystifying. Three separate journalists on the papal flight gave the pope opportunity to say why exactly he believed the bishop instead of the survivors accusing him. The second journalist to ask Francis about Barros on the flight was a Chilean woman. As she spoke to the pope, her voice cracked with nervousness at questioning the church’s top leader. She asked: ‘Why are not the victims’ testimonies proof for you? Why do you not believe them?’ The pope gave no satisfying answer, only repeating a claim of ‘no evidence’ against the bishop.”
Indeed, it was understood, as the Washington Post said, that Francis’ trip to Latin America – dogged by protests over Barros both in person at the pope’s appearances and in the press – was in part intended as “an apology tour” to abuse survivors. Which is why his accusation of calumny against those same victims the next day came as such a shock to observers unused to Bergoglio’s ability to turn on a dime.
All was going as planned. On Wednesday, January 17, the pope met as scheduled with selected survivors of sexual abuse by priests. He made all the right noises, talking about his “pain and shame,” and reportedly even crying, at what happened. “I know the pain of these cases of child abuse and I am following how much is needed to overcome this serious and painful evil,” he said.
24 hours later he was calling them liars.
James Hamilton, 49 and now a doctor, was one of the Barros accusers. He told the BBC at a press conference, “What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses.” The lead voice of the victims in Chile, Juan Carlos Cruz, tweeting to one of Francis’s leading apologists, Austen Ivereigh, said, “Does he need a photo, a selfie, as proof? Sorry Austen, we didn’t think of it as we were being abused and Juan Barros watching.”
Although the issue came to the attention of a much broader audience during the most recent papal trip, the outcry has been ongoing since his appointment to the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno in 2015. Barros was a student protégée of the charismatic homosexual/pederast predator Fernando Karadima, and went on to be ordained in 1984, made bishop in 1995 and appointed as bishop of the armed forces.
Barros claimed in court that the first he knew of Karadima’s offenses was on a Chilean television programme in 2010. This is refuted by Karadima’s victims – deemed credible both by the secular courts and the Vatican tribunal – who testified that he personally witnessed the abuse at Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago.
Last Thursday, however, was not the first time Francis, confronted unexpectedly in public over the Barros question, has responded testily and with insults. In 2015 the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano published a video of him scolding two women who spoke with him in St. Peter’s Piazza, asking that he reconsider the appointment, citing the “suffering” of the Church in Chile over the issue.
The pope told the women, “The Church has lost its freedom, letting its head fill with politicians and accusing a bishop without having any proof, after twenty years of service, so think with your head.” He warned them not to allow themselves to be led by “leftists who have set up this thing.”
“The only charge against this bishop has been discredited by the Court of Justice, so please do not lose your serenity, you suffer, but because you are foolish…I am the first to judge and punish those accused of similar crimes, but in this case there is not even a proof.”
The insults were not forgotten. Among the signs held by protesters in Chile last week were those reading, “Ni zurdos, ni tontos,” (Neither lefties nor stupid). The jab certainly wasn’t lost on Francis, since the signs were being held by protesters the full length of his auto route to Santiago from the airport. One of the protesters told the BBC, “He doesn’t even know us, so how can he accuse us of being such things? He thinks we are politically motivated even though we come from different parishes in Osorno and are doing this because we are against priests being allowed to abuse children.”
Apparently His Holiness was informed that the “calumny” comment had caused some blow-back because a couple of days later we got something touted – though somewhat skeptically – as a “contrite” papal apology. This also followed an astonishing public rebuke of the pope by Sean Cardinal O’Malley – a member of the C9 council of cardinals and the former head of the pope’s sex abuse commission – who said, “It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator.”
“Pope Francis fully recognizes the egregious failures of the Church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones,” O’Malley said.
Of course, Francis being Francis the apology was banked around with assertions of how right he was. “I have to ask forgiveness because the word ‘proof’ wounded,” he said. “It wounded many people who were abused…I ask them for forgiveness because I wounded them without realizing it, but it was an unintended wound. And this horrified me a lot, because I had received them.”
“And I know how much they suffer, to feel that the Pope says in their face ‘bring me a letter, a proof.’ It’s a slap. And I agree that my expression was not apt, because I didn’t think.”
He doubled down, saying, “I have not heard any victim of Barros. They did not come, they did not show themselves, they did not give evidence in court. It’s all in the air. It is true that Barros was in Karadima’s group of young people. But let us be clear: if you accuse someone without evidence with pertinacity, that is calumny.”
“This is what I can say with sincerity. Barros will remain there if I don’t find a way to condemn him. I cannot condemn him if I don’t have – I don’t say proof – but evidence. And there are many ways to get evidence. Is that clear?”
This “contrite” papal apology didn’t fly well even with the regular news reporters. Philip Pullela, a reporter on the plane for Reuters, described it as “an extremely rare act of self-criticism,” for the “unusually contrite” Bergoglio, and noted that, “While the pope has vowed ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual abuse, his efforts have sputtered.”
Indeed, Francis claim that he met with and heard the “pain” of the victims is untrue in the specific case in hand. CBS News reports that though the Osorno group had tried to obtain a meeting during the trip they were refused. Greg Burke, the pope’s press officer, confirmed that “no papal meetings were planned with the Osorno group, which had formally requested to meet with the pope in July but were told by Vatican organizers that his schedule was already final, some six months before the trip.”
Who is Barros?
ome may remember a video that made the internet rounds of an uproar in a Chilean cathedral at the installation ceremony of a bishop. At the time it didn’t draw much attention from the English language press – mostly at that time distracted by the ongoing battle of the notorious Kasper Proposal and the oncoming Synods. But despite the pope’s claim, the charges against Barros are serious and have been deemed credible by a judge.
He is accused of having covered up sexual abuse, including destroying evidence, committed by Karadima in the ‘80s and ‘90s. In fact – and this point has tended to get glossed over in the press – Barros is accused by the victims of having been in the room, watching at the time, and of engaging in sexual activity with Karadima. This is not, therefore, merely a matter of a bishop or colleague discovering the abuse after the fact, but of being a voyeuristic participant.
Juan Carlos Cruz, told the press in 2015 that he and another boy – both in their teens at the time – “would lie down on the priest’s [Karadima’s] bed, one resting his head at the man’s shoulder, another sitting near his feet. The priest would kiss the boys and grope them, he said, all while the Rev. Juan Barros watched.” Cruz, now a 51-year-old “gay” journalist, told The Associated Press, “Barros was there, and he saw it all.”