The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Observers remain “mystified” over Pope’s remarks on clerical sex abuse, and call for bishop accountability

The Vatican deemed Bishop Barros’ accusers credible. Why doesn’t the Pope believe them when they say the bishop knew about their abuse?

A banner that says in Spanish, "Yes, Francis, here there is proof," hangs near the cathedral in Lima, Peru, Jan. 21. The banner protests Pope Francis' defense of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, who is accused of protecting a priest the Vatican found guilty of sexual abuse of minors. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis has faced a great deal of criticism since he leveled accusations of calumny against victims of clerical sex abuse last week. Those victims claim that Bishop Juan Barros, whom Pope Francis appointed to the Diocese of Osorno, Chile, on January 10, 2015, had first-hand knowledge of their abuser’s crimes and was an active participant in their cover-up.

The highest-ranking churchman to respond has been Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who is also a member of the C9 Council of Cardinal Advisors and the man the Holy Father personally chose to head the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (an organization for which people within and without the Church had high hopes when it was launched in 2014, but which quickly proved both toothless and dysfunctional, and now exists in a sort of juridical limbo, its members’ appointments having expired late last year without renewal or replacement).

“It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator,” Cardinal O’Malley’s January 20 statement begins. It goes on to say, “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.”

Another prominent US churchman with ties to the Vatican, Father James Martin, SJ—who serves as a consultor to the Holy See’s Secretariat for Communications—is expressing disappointment over Pope Francis’ comments.

“Like many of Pope Francis’ admirers,” Father Martin told CWR when contacted about the story, “I was disappointed in the Pope’s comments regarding Bishop Barros’ accusers, and found Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s insights a much-needed contribution to the discussion.”

Father Martin recognized that Pope Francis made an effort to ease the hurt his words have caused. “To that end, I was also grateful to see the Pope’s apology,” Father Martin said. Nevertheless, he remains perplexed at the broader situation.

“In general, what mystifies me is that there is rarely, if ever, any hard and fast evidence in clergy sex abuse cases, because of the nature of the crimes ([viz.] someone preying on a child in private),” Father Martin said. “Consequently, we must take what the victims say very seriously, because, needless to say, there are not going to be photographs or records of any kind. Moreover, some of these same victims were believed in the case of Bishop Barros’ mentor, Father Karadima, so I’m not sure why we would suddenly disbelieve them now. As I said, it’s mystifying to me.”

Father Martin also said the Church must implement systems capable of holding the Church’s hierarchical leadership accountable.

“Until we see real accountability for bishops, we will not be able to get past the abuse crisis,” he said. “The papal commission, then, really needs teeth. In particular, bishops who have offended must be removed, and when they are removed it must be said that this is why they are being removed.”

Martin is not the only prominent US Jesuit to make such a call. Writing for Religion News Service, Father Thomas J. Reese argued, “The fundamental problem is that the Church has no process for judging bishops that is transparent and has legitimacy with the public.”

Pope Francis maintains that he has chosen to leave Bishop Barros in place, because, “There is not one shred of proof against him.” Pressed on the plane trip home from South America, the Pope explained, “The word ‘proof’ wasn’t the best [word to use] in order to be near to a sorrowful heart. I would say evidence. The case of Barros was studied, it was re-studied, and there is no evidence. That is what I wanted to say. I have no evidence to condemn. And if I were to condemn without evidence or without moral certainty, I would commit the crime of a bad judge.”

The Pope does have the claims of the three victims, though. Not to put too fine a point on it: that is evidence, in the form of witness testimony; witnesses a Vatican criminal tribunal believed when they said Father Fernando Karadima abused them. Barros, moreover, is one of four Karadima protégés to have been made bishops before their mentor’s crimes came to light. The accusations against Barros have been in the Chilean press at least since 2012.

So, it simply is not true that Pope Francis has no evidence. Pope Francis does not believe the witnesses.

Why the Pope would choose not to believe the victims’ witness against Bishop Barros now, when his own court has found them credible, is, as Father Martin says, “mystifying.” It also raises a serious question about the Holy Father’s governance of the Universal Church. The presumption of innocence, in its strict juridical sense, is the explicit basis on which the Holy Father has justified his behavior in the Barros case. Even if the Holy Father is correctly applying the principle—and there are strong reasons to believe he is not—it is not the standard a prudent leader employs in making personnel decisions.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 221 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. The entire hierarchy and all spokes-mouths like Rev. Martin have ZERO credibility.

    That M is speaking indicates he is worried that F’s misstep here will chill the Danneels/PF/SJ homo-erotic agenda.

    PF is the candidate of the second abuse coverup clericalists – so ably led in the 2013 conclave by the master coverup criminal Danneels, who under Pope Benedict retired in utter disgrace for being exposed in the Belgian press for covering up the homosexual incest of his predator friend Bishop Vanderweighe, who raped his own nephew when the victim was a boy. Danneels – the epitome of the criminally negligent Bishops who concocted decades of crimes in the sex abuse scandal – was heard on audio recordings telling the victim (who only came forward years later – when a married man) that it was his fault also (when he was a boy!)…and that it was too hard for him to contact Pope Benedict and report the crimes of Vanderweighe- Danneels asked that V be allowed to retire with his good name.

    And that man – Danneels- is the man who engineered the PF election conclave / and he stood on the balcony with ZpF when he was introduced to the world as Pope.

    What a charade by these leftist progressive clericalists and their supporters.

    As if PF could care less about victims – compared to his big election for the homo-erotic SJ/Danneels/Kasper agenda.

    • it is worse than mystifying that Francis is not believing those speaking of being abused, but instead in effect is calling them unreliable and unbelievable, and without providing evidence – the Lord and the Lord in the Catechism says something about this too….come Holy Spirit, exposed the deeds of darkness, let Your Light be ours….!

  2. Are the CWR, Fr. Martin & Fr. Reese and the dissenter National”Catholic” Reporter joining together to smoke-screened that Pope Francis has “dismantled” the reforms of Pope Benedict XVI?

    I wrote for NewsMax during the US sex-abuse scandal, before the Benedict reforms, a piece called:

    “What is VOTF’s Real Agenda?”

    The agenda was a power grab attempt by dissenters and gay activists.

    Martin & Reese appear to be following the same script as VOFT did back then. Google the article title. It is still number one that google page on NewsMax.

    The point is why is the CWR pretending with them that the Benedict reforms never happened and were not dismantled by Francis.

    I pray it is only ignorance of the following facts:

    The Benedict reforms were not just judging covered-up bishops of sex-abuse priests, but removing them at a rate of “two or three bishops per month” and had “defrocked or suspended more than 800” predator priests.

    CWR editors please read Hilary White’s fine January 25 article “Special Report: Pope Francis Accused of Inaction in Notorious Sex Abuse Cases” in the Remnant.

    • Where does this piece even mention Benedict XVI? The story here is simple: a wide range of Catholics, across the spectrum (so to speak), have serious questions about how Pope Francis is handling this situation. There is no pretending, on the part of CWR, that Benedict’s reforms never happened. If anything (again, Benedict is not mentioned here, so…), there is frustration and concern that Francis is exhibiting questionable judgment and poor leadership.

      Not everything is a conspiracy. No, really, it’s not.

  3. It is not a conspiracy that the CWR article promoted Reese’s claim that there is “no process for judging bishops” when there is a process that has been dismantled by Pope Francis.

    The Reese quote and the CWR headline “call for bishop accountability” implies or presupposes that there is no process instituted by Pope Bendict.

    I persumed that you might be ignorant of this information.

    Orthodox Catholic editors have a duty not be used as pawns by gay activists and dissenters in furthering their agenda.

  4. It is a horror show which seems unreal. But, instead, it is absolutely the ongoing reality of our Church.
    The situation is so far gone it can only be changed from Above. I shudder at what we have come to and the so very serious consequences which await us.
    Dear bishops how do you sleep at night?
    How does anyone in the Society of Jesus sleep at night?

  5. I am grateful for CWR’s courage in the face of this appalling “pontificate” and it’s post-Catholic ideology.

  6. Francis’ stubbornness is even more perplexing considering the fact that the bishop in question has tried to resign more than once with Francis refusing the resignation. Whatever the bishop’s guilt or innocence it is clear he cannot govern given the situation. He should be replaced for the good of the diocese and the wider Church. The people and clergy don’t want him as they’re bishop. Strange that Francis always talks about the decentralizing the Church yet stomps all over the will of the local Church when it suits him.

  7. Fr Martin wouldn’t be so mystified if he had been following — and seeing with objectivity — all the other disorders that have been happening during this papacy. It’s not mystifying at all; this is the way Pope Francis operates.

  8. I am a recently retired prosecutor with 38 years of experience. I co-counselled an investigation into Diocesan sexual abuse and the attendant cover-up on Long Island, NY. One priest, for example, abused several victims including a special needs person. The witnesses were credible and corroborated by others as well as by Diocesan papers in the secret archive files maintained under Canon Law. Yet Rome acquitted the priest and put him back in service. Now, mysteriously, he has been reassigned. My spiritual faith grows stronger as I age; my trust in the Church’s ministerial capabilities continues to shrink.

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