Health & Spirit

Pope Francis apologizes to abuse victims for comments in Chile, still defends controversial bishop

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

However, his remarks to the Chilean media about Barros quickly became a public relations nightmare that tended to dominate coverage of a papal trip that was focused on a range of social issues -- the status of immigrants and the poor, the plight of indigenous groups and the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rain forest. The firestorm about the comments tended to diminish the broader social points that the pope sought to make during his trip to South America.

Despite his apology aboard the papal plane, Francis still insisted that there was not sufficient "evidence" -- he used the more legalistic term this time -- to condemn Barros or remove him from his post as bishop of Osorno

"I can't condemn him because I don't have evidence," Francis told reporters on the papal plane. "But I'm also convinced that he's innocent."

The pope thus implied that the victims who have accused Barros have not convinced Francis that the bishop was involved in a whitewash of sexual misconduct.

Barros has repeatedly denied that he covered up sexual abuse by his onetime mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, a former Santiago priest who became Chile's most notorious pedophile cleric.

The Vatican sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of penance and prayer in 2011 after finding that he had molested children and adults during his time as a priest in Santiago. Karadima was removed from his ministry but was never prosecuted criminally.

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Many victims said the church had ignored for years complaints against Karadima, who was a charismatic figure in his well-off parish in Santiago. Some victims have also said that Karadima's associates, including Barros, knew about the longtime abuse but failed to take action against Karadima, or covered up his actions.

(Los Angeles Times special correspondent Jorge Poblete in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.)

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