Pope Francis apologized for the statements he made during his visit to Chile to defend Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up decades of sexual abuse by members of the church. Pope Francis said he is sorry if he hurt anybody but he still backs the bishop.

Last week, the Pope accused the victims of sexual abuse of slander, saying that their attacks against Bishop Juan Barros have no justification, since the Pope considers there is no evidence against Barros. He said he would do something about it, the day he has real evidence. However, this caused great controversy in Chile and seemed to have offended the victims of these abuses.

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Pope Francis says he is sorry and that he didn’t mean to offend victims of sexual abuse. Image credit: Crux now

“I apologize to them if I hurt them without realizing it, but it was a wound that I inflicted without meaning to,” said the pope during the papal flight from Latin-America back to Rome on Monday.

Pope Francis: ‘The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak’

Tough many people celebrated Pope Francis visit’s to Chile from January 15 to January 18 – joining him on the streets along his tour through the city – many others protested against the inaction of the Pope towards the members of the church in Chile accused of committing or covering up sexual abuses for many decades. The controversy was centered on Bishop Juan Barros.

He said last week that there was no concrete proof against the Chilean bishop and that he wouldn’t do a thing until he has enough evidence. He accused the victims of making a “calumny” against the bishop. Many were disappointed and angry at the pope’s statements, and that lead to more protests in Chile against the church during the papal visit to the Latin-American country.

However, given the controversy, the Pope realized that he might have made a mistake with his previous declarations. He apologized saying that he didn’t notice back then that he might be hurting the victims, and that if he did, he really didn’t mean to. He also said that looking back to what he said his words implied that the allegations of sexual abuse are only real when there is a concrete proof, and he really didn’t mean that.

“To hear that the Pope says to their face, ‘Bring me a letter with proof,’ is a slap in the face,” he said, adding that it pains him very much because “covering up abuse is an abuse in itself.”

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The Pope landing on Chile. Image credit: National Catholic Reporter

Pope said that punishing Barros would be the crime of a bad judge

Despite the whole controversy, the Pope continues to assure that Bishop Barros is innocence. He said that Barros didn’t know about the sexual abuses committed by his mentor Rev. Fernando Karadima. Therefore, he said he couldn’t punish the bishop because he would be committing “the crime of a bad judge” if he does that.

Bishop Barros has been deeply criticized in Chile since he was appointed by the Pope in 2015 to lead the Diocese of Osorno. He was Rev. Fernando Karadima’s protégé. Karadima is a very well known priest in Chile and not for the best of reasons. He is, in fact, the face of the church’s sexual abuse scandals in Chile. He was found guilty and dismissed in 2011 for pederasty. He abused dozens of minors over decades, beginning in the 80s. Karadima served as a priest in the southern city of Osorno.

In Chile, the victims say that Barros knew what Karadima did but did nothing to report it or to stop it. Barros, on the other hand, assures that he never witnessed the abuses.

The recent protest in Chile also drew criticism from the Pope’s top adviser on clerical sex abuse, the Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who said that it is understandable that the statements made by the Pope could have hurt survivors of the sexual abuses.

“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.

It is clear that the apology made by the pope on his way back to Rome won’t be enough to satisfy the victims of abuses by clerics in Chile and other supporters of the victims. His visit to Chile seemed to have left things worse, by sending a contradicting message regarding clerical abuses and by saying that all the allegations against Barros were basically lies.

Source: National Public Radio (NPR)