Pope Francis has rebuked Chilean abuse survivors who accused Bishop Juan Barros of covering up sexual abuse. On his trip to Chile, the Pope had said: “There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?”
On the flight home, Francis said that he should have said “proof”, not evidence, and that the latter word was “not the best word to use to approach a wounded heart”. He admitted that his statement had been “a slap in the face” for victims.
What abuse survivors are saying
Before the Pope expressed regret, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the main Vatican adviser on child protection, said it was “understandable” that the Pope’s statements “were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator”.
Several abuse survivors expressed dismay at his remarks. Anne Barrett Doyle, who runs the website BishopAccountability.org, told the Guardian that Francis had “turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”
One of Bishop Barros’s accusers. Juan Carlos Cruz, tweeted: “The Pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
What the vaticanisti are saying
Philip Pullella of Reuters noted that the Barros case had “riveted Chile for years”. Bishops Barros’s mentor, Fr Fernando Karadima, was “found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing teenage boys over many years. Karadima denies the allegations, and Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.” Pullella observed that “Even Chile’s famously conservative print media criticised the Pope’s comments.”
At Catholic News Agency, Hannah Brockaus said that “Francis has long defended Barris, who claims to be innocent”. Four abuse survivors have accused him of “colluding to cover up [abuse]”. Bishop Barros offered his resignation in 2015. Pope Francis told reporters on the flight that he rejected the resignation, because to do so would be “to admit culpability in advance”.
✣Bishops: our country is sinking into the abyss
The bishops of the Central African Republic have said their country “continues to sink into the abyss”, with armed bands “creating anarchy”. Villages are still being torched, they said, and “their inhabitants tortured and killed without shame”. The bishops criticised the “inaction” of UN peacekeepers as well as “complicit” politicians.
Why was it under-reported?
The country, visited by Pope Francis two years ago, has been in turmoil since a civil war in 2013. The world’s attention has long gone elsewhere. But the situation is getting worse. Half the country’s 4.6 million population needs aid, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross – the highest proportion since 2013. Churches and cathedrals shelter thousands of displaced people all over the country. The Church, the last hope for many, is now being targeted. A priest has been murdered; another, in Bangassou, has been stabbed.
What will happen next?
The bishops acknowledged efforts to bring stability to the country, in the form of regional prefects, a new court and a development plan backed by the United Nations. But they are bleak about the future. Indeed, it’s hard to see how violence can be stemmed without a more dramatic intervention. The UN added 900 soldiers to its peacekeeping force last autumn – it has made little difference. The bishops have appealed for all armed groups to lay down their weapons. The call is unlikely to be heeded.
✣The week ahead
On sunday Pope Francis will pray in front of a Marian icon installed in Rome’s Basilica of St Mary Major four centuries ago. The icon, Salus Populi Romani (“health of the Roman people”) is 5ft by 3ft and painted on thick cedar planks. Sunday is its feast day. In the 16th century Rome escaped a plague after the Marian image was carried through the streets.
Later on Sunday the Pope will visit the mother church of Ukrainian Greek Catholics in Italy. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said the visit to the Santa Sofia basilica was a sign of Francis’s closeness to suffering Ukrainians.
Next Thursday a law comes into force in Ontario, Canada, creating “buffer zones” around abortion clinics. The law bans vigils – or anyone holding a pro-life sign – from within 50 metres (164ft) of clinics. Offenders could face fines of up to $5,000 (£3,600) and six months in jail. Canada’s March for Life, which had passed an abortion clinic, will have to change its route.
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