Pope Francis has issued an apology for implying that victims of sexual abuse by priests should present “proof,” in an unusual act of self-criticism. However, he continued to defend a Chilean bishop who was accused of covering up abuse.
In an extremely unusual admission of a mistake, the Pope acknowledged that his comments regarding Juan Barros had “wounded many” when addressing reports aboard the plane while returning from a week-long trip to Chile and Peru.
Father Fernando Karadima was accused in 2010 of abusing numerous teenage boys in the Santiago, the Chilean capital, and in 2011, the Vatican found him to be guilty of the offence and sentenced the priest to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.”
However, at the time, Bishop Juan Barros, was then accused of covering up the said claims and helping to protect Karadima while he and some other future bishops were preparing to be priests under his tutelage.
He himself has not been accused of abuse. However, one of the victims of Karadima alleges that Barros was present while Karadima was groping and abusing him.
Both Bishop Karadima and Barros have denied the allegations against them.
In 2015, Pope Francis outraged many victims groups when he promoted Bishop Barros even after he had offered to resign twice.
However, on Friday, the Holy Father added fuel to the fire when he said that those who are accusing Bishop Barros of covering up the crimes of “slander” of Karadima should show proof.
When one journalist shouted out a question regarding the Bishop during a press conference as part of the week-long visit to the countries in Latin American, he said that the accusers had “no proof.”
However, on the plane that was heading back to Rome, the patriarch offered a more conciliatory tone stating: “I apologise to them if I hurt them without realising it, but it was a wound that I inflicted without meaning to.
“It pains me very much.”
Pope Francis did still protest the innocence of Bishop Barros stating: “I can’t condemn him because I don’t have evidence and because I am convinced he is innocent.” He said that he would remain in his post until a reliable evidence against him was determined.
However, there are signs that the response of Pope Francis to the questions have not gone down well within the Pope’s inner circle.
A key papal adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, issued a statement that was distancing himself from the comments of the Pope saying that they had caused “great pain.”
Cardinal O’Malley is currently in charge of the papal commission who is advising the pontiff regarding how to root out sexual abuse in the Church.