In the face of adversity, the people of Chile have suffered irreparable damage at the hands of Father Fernando Karadima, the nation’s most notorious pedophile priest, and continue to fight for justice years after his prosecution. In recent months, churches have been burned to the ground and protests have erupted across Santiago as an outcome of Pope Francis’ decision, to appoint a man accused of covering up the sexual abuse crimes of Karadima, as bishop. The bishop in question is Bishop Juan Barros of the diocese of Osorno, who victims claim witnessed the abuse by Karadima and took no action to stop it. Furthermore, he used his position in the Catholic Church to try and block the investigation against Karadima. On February 17th, Pope Francis sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the most experienced and respected Vatican investigators, to Chile in order to mitigate the tensions according to Reuters. The Archbishop was tasked with taking the testimony of victims and others opposed to Pope Francis’ appointment of the Barros.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who is now 56 years old, was one of the three Karadima victims who have publicly accused Barros of a cover-up. According to Reuters, he met with Scicluna on February 17th saying, “It’s been a good experience and I leave here very hopeful today. I feel that I was heard…it was very intense and very detailed and very, sometimes, eye-opening for them. Hopefully it will lead to good things.” Although, the powerful and well-connected Karadima had abused Cruz and other victims when they were teenagers, it was not until 2010 that they first went public with the accusations, according to CBC. Following their testimonies, the Chilean prosecutors investigated Karadima however, he was not criminally prosecuted due to the fact that under Chilean law, too much time had elapsed since the offences. Although he escaped criminal prosecution, Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually molesting minors and consequently, banned from public ministry and sentenced to follow a life of prayer and penitence.
Barros, Karadima’s prodigé, has been a bishop since 1995 but his 2015 appointment to the city of Osorno by Francis, caused outrage in Chile after the unfolding of the Karadima scandal. Barros has faced several protests in Osorno, by priests and Catholics alike who continue to question his integrity and his ability to protect Osorno’s children. Barros continues to deny knowing about Karadima’s abuse, but many Chileans have trouble believing him and the result is a split diocese, according to CBC. The victims of Karadima claim Barros not only knew about the abuse, but was actually in the room when it happened. In addition to Barros denying allegations against him, Pope Francis recently made controversial statements to support his innocence. During his visit to Chile last month, Pope Francis sparked outrage by strongly defending Barros, saying that “[t]he day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. That is all slander. Is that clear?” Furthermore, Pope Francis insists he didn’t have any evidence against Barros that would justify removing him from his position. However, the Associated Press previously reported that the pope personally received an eight-page letter in 2015 containing testimony against the bishop, and that Cardinal O’Malley delivered it.
As a result of the pope’s controversial statements, the pope revived the sex abuse advisory commission, Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Francis named nine new members to the commission last month, many of which are survivors of abuse themselves. These new members are also very diverse in terms of their geographic region, coming from countries such as Tonga, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Australia, in order to capture different cultural and social perspectives. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston was reappointed as the leader of the group. According to the Los Angeles Times, O’Malley is not only a member of the pope’s closest advisors, he was also responsible for cleaning up the mess of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, who was exposed in 2002 by the Boston Globe for shifting around predator priests to new posts. However, the commission is not entirely what it seems. Conflicting ideologies regarding the mission of the commission has led to 2 abuse survivors leaving in frustration. The first was British member Peter Saunders, who was driven out of the commission in 2016, saying the group was a toothless, paper-shuffling exercise according to the Los Angeles Times. The second was Irish member Marie Collins, who resigned last year after Vatican bureaucrats refused to respond to all letters sent to the Vatican by abuse victims, a request that was approved by Pope Francis. The pope has also not been of much help in strengthening the commission, for he did not reappoint 6 members whose advocacy for the abused is considered by many, the strongest in commission history.
Several recent sexual abuse cases have led us to the conclusion that the Vatican under Francis does not favour the victims, an approach adopted by U.S. bishops after the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston exploded in 2002. According to the Chicago Tribune, Francis insists he has zero tolerance for abuse and has pledged to hold bishops accountable when they cover-up cases. However, his action spoke louder than words, for there have been several instances where he and the Vatican sided with the accused over the victims. For example, Rev. Mauro Inzoli, a well-known Italian priest who abused five children as young as 12, had his sentence reduced on appeal to a lifetime of penance and prayer in 2014 after a show mercy from Francis. He was later criminally charged in 2016 and sentenced to four years and nine months in prison. It was only then that the Vatican opened a new trial against him and in 2017 he was defrocked. Another example is Rev. Silverio Mura, a parish priest in Ponticelli, who was accused of raping a 13-year-old boy. The victim came forward in 2010 after remembering the abuse years later during therapy, but the case was ultimately shelved in 2016 for lack of proof. Il Mattino, an Italian newspaper, has stated that other victims have since come forward with similar rape claims and it is now unclear whether or not justice will be served under Francis.
Today, Karadima’s victims Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo continue to fight for Barros to be brought to justice, filling a civil lawsuit against the church for damages of $600,000 U.S. dollars. In order to bring Barros to justice, it is important that Pope Francis set a strict, victims first policy, that will guide the commission’s future work. In addition, the Vatican should aim to incorporate strict limits for Bishops to prevent hierarchical rigidity, which is often a prominent barrier to the conviction of abusers. This will allow the Catholic Church to prosecute not only predators of sexual abuse, but also those who have stood by and let it happen.
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