A heartfelt salute from me to the editors of Commonweal, the liberal Catholic magazine, for their sternly worded editorial calling out Pope Francis for his inexcusable behavior on the Chilean sex abuse case. Excerpt:
No issue threatens the church’s witness and credibility like its ongoing response to the sexual-abuse crisis, and it’s inexcusable that Francis responded the way he did. That all this comes so soon after letting the Commission on Protecting Minors lapse is further cause for alarm.
The letter that Francis received in 2015 directly contradicts his claim that no victims had come forward in Chile, and makes it difficult to believe that he was defending Barros out of ignorance. Francis’s election, with its promise to return a real measure of authority to local churches, gave new life to the reform agenda of Vatican II. But when it comes to the crisis that has devastated the church, it increasingly looks as though Francis is only offering more of the same—or worse. He might not be inclined to judge, but the church and the world are watching, and will not hesitate to do just that. Francis has demanded accountability from priests and bishops, and now must be held to account himself.
The “letter” in question is one dated March 3, 2015, and hand-delivered by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to Francis. The letter was from Juan Carlos Cruz, who accused a priest named Juan Barros of watching while his (Barros’s) mentor, a Father Fernando Karadima, molested him and other boys. Karadima was at long last punished by his crimes by the Vatican, but a judge in Chile said the he found the victims’ allegations to be “truthful and reliable,” and said that the only reason Karadima couldn’t be punished under Chile’s criminal law was that the statute of limitations had expired.
Francis named Barros a bishop in January 2015 over the objections of the Chilean bishops’ conference. According to the timeline published by the Catholic Herald, on February 3, Cruz wrote a long letter to the Vatican’s ambassador in Chile telling him what Barros had allegedly witnessed. When Barros was installed in March, there were big protests against it by local Catholics.
On his recent trip to Chile, Francis reiterated his defense of Barros, and told the public that no victims had come forward.
“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said before celebrating Mass outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”
Cardinal O’Malley, who has been Francis’s chief advisor on sex abuse, rebuked the pope for his words. And now we probably know why: O’Malley himself delivered the letter personally to Francis. It is impossible to believe that Francis did not read the letter hand delivered by O’Malley.
What was in the letter? From the BBC’s latest:
“When we were in a room with Karadima and Juan Barros, if he [Barros] wasn’t kissing Karadima, he watched as one of us, one of the younger ones, was touched by Karadima and forced to give him kisses,” [Cruz] writes [in his letter to Francis].
“Karadima would say to me: ‘Put your mouth next to mine and stick out your tongue.’ He’d stick out his and kiss us with his tongue. Juan Barros witnessed all of this on countless occasions, not just in my case but in the case of others as well.”
Addressing himself to Pope Francis, Mr Cruz says: “Holy Father, Juan Barros says he saw nothing and yet, there are dozens of us who can testify to the fact that not only was he present when Karadima abused us, but that he, too, kissed Karadima and they touched each other.”
He concludes the letter with this appeal: “Please Holy Father, don’t be like the others. There are so many of us who despite everything think that you can do something. I treasure my faith, it’s what sustains me, but it is slipping away from me.”
“Please Holy Father, don’t be like the others.” But he was like the others. He is like the others. This is the self-styled Pope of Mercy, but where in him is the mercy for men like Juan Carlos Cruz?
Well, it’s now happened. The great scandal of the modern Catholic Church — its tolerance for clergy who abuse children, and its laxity when dealing with bishops who themselves tolerated or enabled priest-abusers — now touches directly on the pope himself.
The facts as we know them leave us with a few interpretations. 1) Pope Francis simply never read the letter, ignoring this extraordinary intervention by the Vatican’s own commission on a matter of public controversy for his pontificate. 2) Francis read the letter but forgot about it, reverting to his original understanding of the case. 3) Francis read the letter, but stuck to his decision for Barros, committing unintentional or intentional deceptions about the state of his knowledge of the accusations. 4) He read the letter, but either doubted the accusations in it, or at least found them so unimpressive that he did not decide to follow up on them.
The first explanation would mean that Francis was culpably ignorant. The second that he may lack the mental or moral faculties to competently govern the Catholic Church. The third that he is too stubborn or vain to change course in the face of evidence. And the last that he has little trust or faith in the Commission on the Protection of Minors to pass on credible counsel to him. Perhaps more reporting or disclosure will change our understanding, but none of these are satisfactory.
No, they are not.
Look, you know that this stuff enrages me. I lost my Catholic faith over it. In an important sense, what Rome does or does not do about clerical sexual molestation of children is not my problem, at least not like it once was. But this latest round hits on a week in which I have learned of four friends — four — who were sexually molested as small children. None by clergy, but all by people they and their families trusted. The fallout has been emotionally, psychologically, and physically devastating for them. One of these victims told me, “You spend your whole life thinking that there’s something in you that’s dirty, that you can never be clean.”
“But it wasn’t your fault,” I said.
“I know,” said this person. “I have always known that in my head. But I don’t know that in my heart. I don’t know that in my body. All my life, every time I’ve walked into a room, I have felt that everybody was judging me, because I was a dirty person.”
This, from one of the gentlest friends I have. What brought the topic up was my talking about the mess with Pope Francis and the Chilean bishop. My friend said, “That’s how it always goes. Nobody believes the children. They don’t want to believe the children.”
“Because they don’t want to believe the children,” I said, my jaw clenching. “If they believe the children, that means they have to act on it.”
The stories I have heard over the past few days have shaken me up pretty hard. I read about things like this a lot when I was covering the Catholic scandal from 2001 until around 2007 or so. I knew well that these things happened. I did not know that the abominable crime of child sexual abuse would ever strike so close to my circle. Again, these abusers were not clergy — though in one case, when the victim told her priest what had been done to her, the priest responded that it was her fault. She was seven years old.
When does it end? When does it ever end? Who can you trust? Damned if I know.
May God have mercy on all these people who knew what was happening and looked the other way, and especially on those who called the victims liars, because it is surely beyond my capacity to have any.
Is Randall Margraves, the father in the clip below, a Catholic? If so, ordain him and make him Pope: