Pope Francis Unusually Isolated in Chilean Priest Sex Abuse Scandal

Former Secretary of State John Kerry greets Pope Francis at Andrews Air Force Base on September 24, 2015 (Photo: Wikimedia)

Pope Francis’s trip to Chile and Peru was destined to confront difficult issues, but it was a long festering controversy that brought international attention from major news organizations.

Father Fernando Karadima has been a central figure in the sex abuse crisis in Chile. A national Catholic leader, his parish produced dozens of priests and five bishops, and Father Karadima served as a mentor for Bishop Juan Barros. When Fr. Karadima was accused of sexual abuse, Bishop Barros was seen as covering up the priest’s activities. In 2015, Pope Francis opted to appoint Barros from being the military bishop to being the bishop of the Diocese of Osorno. Protests and criticism of the decision were fierce, and Barros’s installation Mass as bishop was cut short by protestors.

At St. Peter’s in 2015, Pope Francis accused Bishop Barros’s critics of being manipulated by “leftists,” infuriating many lay people in Chile. The 2018 visit to Chile had the pope’s comments looming from the beginning, as Chile’s Catholic Church reeled from the controversy. Many priests and bishops in Chile had opposed Barros’s appointment in 2015, and few wanted to stir the controversy in 2018.

During the recent trip, the pope stated there was no proof against Barros, and called the accusations “calumny.” This comment led Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to issue a comment stating that it was understandable that Francis’s comments caused “great pain” for sexual-abuse victims.

Pope Francis later apologized for his choice of wording, but Chile’s Catholics will be debating the effects of the papal visit for some time. For a politically (and media) savvy pope, the Barros affair brought criticism and negative press typically not seen during such a visit.

For the full article in the National Catholic Register, click here.