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Papal adviser rebukes pope for abuse comments

January 21, 2018

Pope Francis said during his trip to Chile that allegations a bishop there had known about sexual abuse were "slander." Boston's archbishop says those words were "a great source of pain for survivors of sexual abuse."

Erzbischof Sean O'Malley Festivals of Christ Lord
Cardinal Sean O'MalleyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Costa

The Roman Catholic Church's chief adviser on clerical sexual abuse broke ranks with Pope Francis on Saturday after the pontiff accused Chilean abuse victims of slander.

In a rare public rebuke, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said Pope Francis's comments during a visit to Chile were "a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator."

O'Malley, appearing to engage in damage control after strong reactions in Chile, said 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."

Read more: Pope acknowledges Catholic church was 'bit late' in recognizing sexual abuse

The Pope in Peru
O'Malley made his statement while the Pope was visiting PeruImage: Reuters/A. Bianchi


Pope Francis on Thursday dismissed abuse accusations against Chilean Bishop Juan Barros in response to a reporter's question, saying: "There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?"

Barros allegedly protected his former mentor, the Reverend Fernando Karadima, who stood down after an internal Vatican investigation found him guilty in 2011 of abusing teenage boys. Barros denied any knowledge of Karadima's actions.

The pope's comments — made as he was leaving for Peru — sparked widespread uproar in Chile, where the Karadima-Barros case has damaged the Catholic Church's reputation over the last few years.

Read more: Chile: Pope Francis questions sex abuse victims' claims against Bishop Juan Barros

Pope Francis asks Chileans for forgiveness

'Abandoning' victims

"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 Saturday.

The archbishop of Boston — who was traveling to a pre-arranged meeting with Pope Francis in Peru — has been the pontiff's chief adviser on clerical sexual abuse since his appointment as head of the high-profile Vatican committee for the protection of minors.

But the commission's three-year term ended in December and its future is unclear after two lay members who were victims of sexual abuse resigned.

Marie Collins of Ireland and Peter Saunders of Britain exited the commission in 2017 after complaining of a lack of progress and cooperation from Rome.

Pope Francis has vowed "zero tolerance" for sexual abusers since assuming office in 2013, but plans to establish a separate board to investigate Bishops accused of sexual abuse have yet to be implemented.

Read more: Pope Francis decries destruction of environment, corruption in Peru

amp/jm (Reuters, AP)

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