In a unique step, the archbishop of Boston called out Pope Francis Saturday for his sharp dismissal of questions regarding how a Chilean bishop handled a priest’s sexual abuse of children as the pontiff ended the third and last day of his historic trip to Chile.
“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,” said Sean Cardinal O’Malley, who succeeded Bernard Cardinal Law as the leader of the Catholic Church in Boston in the wake of Law’s own mishandling of multiple cases of sexual predator priests.
“Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed,’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” the cardinal said.
The Pope was asked about Bishop Juan Barros, a Chilean accused by four victims of clerical sexual abuse of colluding with their abuser to cover up his crimes. Barros, who has maintained his innocence, has been a subject of controversy since his 2015 appointment to lead the Diocese of Osorno.
Pope Francis, who was the archbishop of Buenos Aires before his elevation to the papal throne in 2013, is touring Latin America countries, but what was supposed to be a victory lap for the region’s first pope, took a odd turn when a Chilean reporter asked Pope Francis about Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, the prelate of Osorno.
When Barros was consecrated a bishop in 2015, ushers at his cathedral were called upon to hold back hundreds of protesters, who were livid at Barros for his silence while a priest regarding the decades of sexual abuse perpetrated by his mentor Father Fernando Karadima. No other Chilean bishops attended the ceremony, except for the consecrating bishop.
In 2011, the Vatican ordered the then 81-year-old Karadima was ordered to live out his life in a monastery, but Chilean courts were prevented from prosecuting the former seminary rector because too much time had passed since the crimes.
One victim of Karadima, Juan Carlos Cruz, told Chile’s RadioZero that Barros witnessed the abuse and that he himself witnessed the future bishop kiss Karadima.
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. https://t.co/IrNG587Gcj
— Juan Carlos Cruz Ch. (@jccruzchellew) January 18, 2018
The pope’s reaction to criticism of his choice for the bishop of Osorno has overshadowed his repeated statements accepting responsibility for the Church’s failure to protect children from clergy.
On his first day in Chile, Jan. 15, the pope told Chilean officials that he felt pain and shame about these failings. “I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again.”
O’Malley tempered his statement with his endorsement of Pope Francis’ appreciation of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy.
“What I do know, however, is that 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,” the cardinal said.
“Accompanying the Holy Father at numerous meetings with survivors I have witnessed his pain of knowing the depth and breadth of the wounds inflicted on those who were abused and that the process of recovery can take a lifetime,” he said.
“The Pope’s statements that there is no place in the life of the Church for those who would abuse children and that we must adhere to zero tolerance for these crimes are genuine and they are his commitment,” he said.
Upon is taking over the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003, O’Malley immediately shut down a Law-commissioned public relations campaign to discredit victims and met with the survivors and their representatives to quickly resolve their claims.
In 2010, the cardinal was designated by the Vatican as a special envoy to Ireland to lead the Church’s efforts there to recover from its own clerical sexual abuse scandal.
O’Malley is a member of Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, but the commission expired Dec. 17 and has not yet been renewed.
“My prayers and concern will always be with the survivors and their loved ones,” the archbishop of Boston said in his Jan. 20 statement.
“We can never undo the suffering they experienced or fully heal their pain,” he said. “In some cases, we must accept that even our efforts to offer assistance can be a source of distress for survivors and that we must quietly pray for them while providing support in fulfillment of our moral obligation.”
O’Malley said he would remain personally dedicated to the process of healing for survivors and maintaining vigilance for the safety of children.