The Associated Press has obtained a letter received by Pope Francis in 2015 detailing sexual abuse and subsequent cover-up by Chilean clergy members, proving he had knowledge of the events despite his claims to the contrary. This also challenges his “zero tolerance” policy for sexual abuse and cover-ups.
The scandal began last month when Francis traveled to South America and was met with protestors who were upset by his defense of Bishop Juan Barros. Barros has been accused by victims of bearing witness to, but ignoring, abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. These two men are the subject of the letter in question.
The pope gave a statement to an AP reporter on the flight home from South America last month, saying “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.” Members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors refute that, claiming that in April of 2015, a delegation was sent to Rome with the specific intent of delivering a letter to Francis about Barros.
The author of the letter, Juan Carlos Cruz, provided graphic detail about the kissing, groping, and fondling he was subject to under Karadima’s power. He also claimed that Barros saw the abuse and did nothing.
Four members of the commission met with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who was Francis’ chief advisor at the time. They vocalized their opposition to the pope’s recent appointment of Barros as a bishop in southern Chile, and were promised by O’Malley that he would deliver the letter to Francis. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done,” former commission-member Marie Collins told the Associated Press.
Cruz was also told “that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands.”
At the time, the contents of the letter and photographic evidence of Collins giving it to O’Malley were not public; Cruz provided the letter and Collins the photo after an AP story came out claiming Francis had no knowledge of the abuse done by Karadima.
Following an outcry in Chile over Francis’ defense of Barros, the Vatican announced last week it was sending its most esteemed sex crimes investigator to gather testimony about Barros from Cruz and others.
Barros recently denied the accusations against him, telling the AP “I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined, the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims… I have never approved of nor participated in such serious, dishonest acts, and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things.”
O’Malley’s spokesman in Boston deferred requests for comments to the Vatican, but the Vatican has not responded to those requests. However, O’Malley rebuked Francis’ defense of Barros on Jan. 20, saying the pope’s words were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse.” A day later, Francis attempted to walk back his statement, citing the need for “evidence.” He maintained his “certain” belief that Barros was innocent even when told of the bishop’s presence at the scene of Karadima’s abuse during an airborne press conference the same day.