Pope Francis falsely denied that any Chilean victims of sex-abuse came forward about a scandal, despite receiving a victim’s letter that graphically described his abuse.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who authored the eight page letter, and members of Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors confirmed to The Associated Pressthat Francis received the letter. The letter describes the victim’s abuse at the hands of the notorious Rev. Fernando Karadima and the fact that Bishop Juan Barros witnessed the abuse.
Members of the sex-abuse commission said they hand-delivered the letter to Francis in April 2015, but Francis openly denied during his January visit to South America that any victims came forward or placed Barros at the scene of any instance of abuse.
“You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward,” Francis told reporters during his return flight to the Vatican.
“No one has come forward. They haven’t provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague. It’s something that can’t be accepted,” Francis added.
Francis also denounced those who accused Barros of complicity with Karadima’s sex-abuse crimes, calling such accusations slanderous and based on mere suspicion. Cruz’ letter, however, described in detail not only Karadima’s abusive practices but also Barros’ engagement in homoerotic behavior and alleges that he witnessed everything Karadima did to young boys.
“More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue,” Cruz wrote. “Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.”
“Juan Barros covered up everything that I have told you,” Cruz added.
Four members of Francis’ Commission for the Protection of Minors told the AP that they personally met with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Francis’ lead adviser on dealing with sex-abuse, physically handed him a copy of the letter, asked that he give it to Francis, and explained their objections to Barros’ appointment as Bishop of Osornos. O’Malley, for his part, subsequently called Marie Collins, one of the then members of the commission, and confirmed he had delivered the letter into Francis’ hands.
O’Malley allegedly called Cruz with the news as well.
“Cardinal O’Malley called me after the pope’s visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands,” Cruz told AP.
Cruz provided to the AP both the letter and a photograph of Collins handing the letter to O’Malley after reading about Francis’ denial of having heard from any Karadima victims or having received any evidence of Barros’ involvement. Catherine Bonnet, another member of the commission, confirmed that she took the photograph that Cruz provided to the AP. Catherine further stated that she and the other commission members specifically chose to go to Rome at a time when O’Malley, who Francis appointed as the head of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, would be meeting with Francis’ other cardinal advisers to ensure that O’Malley could deliver the letter quickly and directly to Francis.
O’Malley did not make the Cruz’s letter public, but publicly rebuked Francis for his denunciation of Chilean Barros accusers and called it a “source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator.”
“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,” O’Malley said, according to Crux Now.
O’Malley did not, however, mention Francis’ alleged feigned ignorance of Cruz’s letter. Cruz told AP that Francis’ denial devastated him.
“I was upset and at the same time I couldn’t believe that someone so high up like the pope himself could lie about this,” Cruz told AP.
Francis reportedly defended Barros’ alleged innocence and said he would “be the first to listen” to any evidence that anyone could bring to bear against Barros, but said in the same press conference that he considered victims’ testimonies to be evidence.