There were high hopes for Pope Francis when he was elected in 2013, especially when he promised "zero tolerance" to priests who sexually abuse children and teenagers. All that seems to have vaporized, however, after his most recent trip to Chile and Peru in January, where he told sex abuse victims he didn't believe that one of his own bishops, Juan Barros, was complicit in their abuse.
People reacted with anger when he told them, "The day they bring me proof against Bp. Barros, then I will speak. There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?"
He went on, "No one has come forward, they haven't provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague, it's something that can't be accepted."
The problem is, somebody did come forward in 2015. Not only did Juan Carlo Cruz write a letter to Pope Francis, outlining chilling details of his and other boys' abuse at the hands of Fr. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s, allegedly with Bp. Barros' knowledge, Cdl. Sean O'Malley, one of the Pope's close advisors, confirmed he hand-delivered the letter directly to the Holy Father.
Cruz maintains that in the 1980s Karadima and Barros were homosexual lovers and that Barros witnessed Karadima abusing him and other boys: "When we were in a room with Karadima and Juan Barros, if he 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."
"Karadima would say to me: 'Put your mouth next to mine and stick out your tongue,'" Cruz continued. "He'd stick out his and kiss us with his tongue."
Cruz disclosed to Pope Francis in his 2015 letter, "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."
Although Pope Francis is sending Malta's Abp. Charles Scicluna to personally interview Karadima's victims, he has so far remained silent on his knowledge of any sex abuse claims. Some are calling it the worst crisis of this pontificate; whether the pope will ever be able to recover from it remains something to be seen.
Watch the panel discuss the fallout regarding Pope Francis' comments in The Download—A Papal Scandal.