Pope Francis drew criticism on February 5 when the Associated Press reported that he received an eight-page letter in 2015 from a victim of Fernando Karadima, Chile’s infamous “pedophile priest.”
During his visit to Chile in January, the pope reiterated that there was no proof that Karadima’s right-hand man, Juan Barros, had covered up acts of sexual violence, reported El País.
The previously revered Karadima was found guilty of sexually abusing minors in Chile by Vatican internal investigation in 2011. He was ordered to retire to a convent to a life of “prayer and penitence,” reports the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. An estimated 54 percent of Chile’s population is Catholic, according to a report in Plaza Pública, and the accusations shocked the conservative nation. At the time, according to a New York Times article, Antonio Delfau, a Jesuit priest of Santiago, hoped the Vatican decision would “mark a before and after in the way the Chilean Catholic Church proceeds in cases like these.”
Many Chileans expressed anger when Barros, who had been accused of protecting Karadima, was appointed bishop of Osorno in 2015, reported El País. Survivor Juan Carlos Cruz wrote a letter to Pope Francis graphically detailing the abuses of Karadima and the measures Barros took to cover up the abuse. According to the AP report, the letter was delivered by the Ponti cal Commission for the Protection of Minors. e letter was reportedly delivered to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Francis’ top adviser on abuse, who promised at the time that the letter reached the pope.
The letter also mentions Tomislav Koljatic, Andrés Artega, and Horacio Valenzuela, three individuals that Cruz claims stood by while Karadima abused minors. Cruz claims that in Chile, no one respects the zero-tolerance attitude the Church claims it has towards abuse, according to the AP.
Pope Francis revealed that he has rejected Bishop Barros’ resignation twice for lack of evidence and because he is “convinced he is innocent,” reports the New York Times. In response to a Chilean reporter’s question about Bishop Barros’ complicity in crimes of abuse, Francis stated, “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk… It is all slander.”
Francis later called his claim of seeing no proof that the Chilean bishop covered up abuse a “slap in the face” to victims, according to El País. “Here I have to apologize because the word proof hurt them… I know how much they suffer,” said Francis.
Pope Francis is seen as a progressive on many long standing issues in Church doctrine, but his response could be a step back not only for his agenda but also for global faith in the Catholic Church. Many of the pope’s supporters worry that his response, or lack of one, will result in a loss of moral authority at a time where progress and reform in the Church are needed.
The Church has been losing followers across Latin America, reported Quartz. Many believe that the Catholic hierarchy favors business interests over addressing issues such as poverty. The slight change in attitude is monumental in a country like Chile, where the Church has wielded influence for centuries. The next steps taken by the Catholic leadership will undoubtedly shape both politics and culture within Latin America.