Pope Francis has accused victims of a pedophile priest of slandering a bishop by accusing him of a cover-up of the priest’s actions. The pope’s remarks in Chile Thursday marked a shocking end to a trip aimed at healing historic wounds from sexual abuse by priests in the country.
Pope Francis started his Chile trip by apologizing to Chilean victims of sexual abuse by priests for the “irreparable damage” they suffered — but survivor Juan Carlos Cruz says his words are just “empty headlines.”
“They never come with concrete actions, which is what we would expect,” Cruz told As It Happens host Carol Off. “I’m not a vengeful person. I tend to forgive everybody. But the pain is so big that he continues to allow to be inflicted on survivors.”
Cruz is not alone. Francis’ visit to Chile has seen unprecedented opposition. Massive protests have erupted on the streets of Santiago, and three churches were torched overnight, including one that was burned to the ground.
Chile’s most infamous priest
At the heart of the protest is Cruz’s abuser, the disgraced Rev. Fernando Karadima, and those accused of helping him cover his tracks. Cruz and other victims first went public with their accusations against Karadima in 2010 after complaining for years to church authorities the powerful and well-connected priest had kissed and fondled them when they were teenagers.
Chilean prosecutors investigated Karadima, but dropped the charges because the statute of limitations had expired. The judge handling the case stressed that it didn’t collapse for lack of proof.
In 2011, the Vatican found him guilty of sexually molesting minors, barred him from all pastoral duties and sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.”
“We call it a golden retreat,” Cruz said. “They remove them. They put them in some home with all the comforts that you would expect and someone serving them. But they can’t do public ministry.”
Many Chileans are also furious over Francis’ decision in 2015 to appoint a Karadima protégé as bishop of the southern city of Osorno. Bishop Juan Barros has denied knowing about Karadima’s abuse — but many Chileans don’t believe him, and his appointment has badly split the diocese.
Cruz alleges Barros not only knew about the abuse he and his peers suffered at the hands of Karadima, but that he was actually in the room when it happened.
“He was right there watching while we were all being abused,” Cruz said. “I mean, what are you supposed to think when all these people that should be punished are rewarded?”
Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros were defamatory.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said after a Chilean journalist asked him about Barros. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”
The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their supporters.
“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 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.”
Cruz — along with fellow survivors James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo — continue to fight for Barros and his underlings to be brought to justice. The trio have launched a civil lawsuit against the church, seeking an apology and damages of $600,000 US ($744,000 Cdn). Their next hearing is set for March.
“We can only imagine how many people were abused,” Cruz said, noting that many have remained silent or taken their own lives. “We do it for them,” he said, “because we want them to have a voice as well.”
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.
Catholic Church and other Christian sects have attempted to cover up sexual abuse by priests all over the world. The issues first came to prominence in January 2002, when the scandal of child molestation by priests that had been gathering across America for years hit Boston like an explosion.
As many as 1,000 children had been sexually abused by 250 priests in the Boston archdiocese over 40 years. It was revealed that Cardinal Bernard F. Law, archbishop of Boston, had for years transferred abusive priests without telling parishioners or law-enforcement officials, and that he had been more protective of the priests, and less of their victims.
Yet, Bernard Law was given safe passage to Rome & continued to function as a senior leader of the Catholic Church – a “golden retreat” as the Chilean sex-abuse victim Cruz put it. Law was appointed in 2004 as high priest of one of Rome’s four most prestigious churches, the Basilica of St. Mary Major. After Pope John Paul died in 2005, he was one of nine prelates who presided at the funeral Masses, and among the 115 cardinals who elected Pope Benedict XVI.
A similar approach of protecting paedophile priests by Church higher-ups has been seen in Bharat too – for eg. in the cover-up attempted to protect rape-accused Father Robin Vadakkancheril, or the South India Catholic Church’s decision (as directed by Vatican) to re-induct convicted child rapist priest Joseph Palanivel Jeyapaul.
This blatant disregard of justice by the powerful Christian Church and inability of even advanced Western nations to punish criminal priests, stands in sharp contrast with how Dharmic religious leaders who are found guilty of sexual & other crimes have to face the full brunt of the law in Bharat – something which has unequivocal support of entire Hindu society. Not even the most hardline Hindutvawadi is demanding any special concessions for Hindu religious leaders, or asking for Hindu religious law to prevail over Constitutional law – yet we are told by our left-liberals that Western nations are the role model of secularism and that the idea of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ is anathema.
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