Pope Francis received a victim’s letter in 2015 that graphically detailed how a priest sexually abused him and how other Chilean clergy ignored it, contradicting the Pope’s recent insistence that no victims had come forward to denounce the cover-up, the letter’s author and members of Francis’s own sex- abuse commission have told the Associated Press (AP).
The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by The Associated Press, challenges his insistence that he has ‘zero tolerance’ for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.
The scandal exploded last month when Francis’s trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defence of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of covering up the abuse of Fr Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed him at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.
On the plane home, asked by an AP reporter, the Pope said: “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”
But former members of the Pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the Pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadima’s hands, which he said Barros and others witnessed and ignored.
Four members of the commission met with Francis’s top abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, explained their objections to Francis’ recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and gave him the letter to deliver to Francis.
“When we gave him (Cardinal O’Malley) the letter for the Pope, he assured us he would give it to the Pope and speak of the concerns,” then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”
Mr Cruz, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, heard the same later that year.
“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,” he said.
Neither the Vatican nor Cardinal O’Malley responded to multiple requests for comment.
The Barros affair first caused shockwaves in January 2015 when Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno, Chile, over the objections of the leadership of Chile’s bishops’ conference and many local priests and laity.
They accepted as credible the testimony against Karadima, a prominent Chilean cleric who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for abusing minors. Barros was a Karadima protege, and according to Cruz and other victims, he witnessed the abuse and did nothing.