Rome--Pope blasts his flock over corrupt bishop

For immediate release: Thursday, Oct. 8

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those abused by Priests (314 566 9790,

Pope Francis says that thousands of his flock are "dumb" and "led around by the nose" by "leftists" who are “orchestrating” opposition to a discredited bishop. Why? Because they choose to believe three credible child sex abuse victims and disbelieve a few Catholic officials who claim that their brother bishop isn’t corrupt bishop despite strong evidence to the contrary.    

These hurtful and arrogant statements reveal a lot about Francis. His ostensibly gentle demeanor masks some ugly feelings about abuse victims and lay Catholics.

There’s a simple question that Francis must now answer: Why would these three victims tell the truth about their abuse by Fr. Fernando Karadima but lie about Bishop Juan Barros watching and hiding that abuse for years? (Catholic officials themselves now admit that Fr. Karadima is a child molester.)

In his first remarks about a specific abuse and cover up case, Francis has let his hair down and it's a disturbing sight. For Francis, like most other Catholic officials, it’s apparently easy to mouth pious generalities about victims but harder to side with them when they expose one of your brother bishops as complicity in child sex crimes.

Francis is being so hurtful here it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, it's not just his Osorno flock that is convinced that Bishop Juan Barros is corrupt. Catholics and citizens across South America are increasingly convinced that he is.

Second, no one’s “orchestrating” the opposition to Barros. It’s pretty obvious that this is a broad and deep and indigenous movement led by caring Catholics and victims, not “leftists.”

Third, recently disclosed emails show top Chilean church officials calling a Fr. Karadima victim “a serpent” and trying to discredit him. Those mean-spirited emails buttress the compelling evidence that high-ranking Catholic prelates are self-serving, which casts further doubt on their denials of covering up clergy sex crimes by Fr. Karadima and other priests.

In our view, Francis should not apologize for his hurtful comments and condescending attitude. Apologies are easy, cheap and mostly meaningless and change nothing. In church parlance, they are ‘cheap grace.’ Instead, Francis should demote Barros and stop elevating clerics who conceal, enable and minimize heinous crimes against children.

This will strike some as harsh, but by promoting Barros - and refusing to reconsider his decision - Francis is basically signaling his clerics that those who tolerate, conceal and even watch child sex crimes will keep climbing the clerical career ladder.

And he’s essentially signaling to Catholics who want kids protected, victims supported, cover ups stopped and complicit bishops punished that they are powerless and “dumb.”

(This is the second time in just a few days that we've seen candid comments by Catholic officials that reveal often-hidden and troubling clerical mindsets. The other case was Fr. Gino Flaim who basically said that, at least in some cases, kids "looking for" affection tempt pedophile priests and cause them to commit child sex crimes. That too is preposterous and hurtful.)

Despite carefully-crafted compassionate-sounding remarks on abuse, deep down Francis clearly buys the simplistic and self-serving notion that this continuing crisis stems largely from the perceived "enemies" of the church hierarchy: angry victims, greedy lawyers, biased journalists and ideological opponents. That explains why he’s done virtually nothing to address the crisis in a meaningful way.

Many are stunned by Francis’ callous, blame-shifting comments. Sadly, we are not. Look at his recent trip to the US and at his actual behavior as pontiff.

In his first comments on US soil about the clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis, Francis made virtually no mention of victims, offered no apology and praised US bishops for how they’re handling it. He refused to tell or even ask bishops to do anything more about the scandal than they’re already doing.

Within hours, the National Catholic Reporter opined that the pope’s “sadly disappointing” message was “a glaring oversight” with just one “oblique” reference to the crisis that “puts him back to square one.”

“At the very least,” wrote NCR editor Dennis Coday, Francis “could have used the words ‘clergy sexual abuse of minors’” and his decision to “praise bishops for the courage they have shown, before acknowledging the pain of the victims, will undoubtedly raise the charges of “he just doesn’t get it.”

--This is, after all, the same pope who refused to meet with victims during the entire time he headed the Buenos Aires archdiocese.

--He is the same pope who, hours after taking office, visited the Rome cathedral headed by the “poster boy” of bad bishops, Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, Massachusetts (the archdiocese from which he resigned in 2002).

--He is the same pope who, as Vatican officials were being grilled about abuse cover ups by a United Nations panel in Geneva, held a private meeting with disgraced Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, a prelate so corrupt that his successor denied him the right to exercise public ministry in his own archdiocese.

--He is the same pope who, just last year, said “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability.” He made this claim shortly after refusing to extradite an accused predatory archbishop in the Dominican Republic to secular authorities and to provide data to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

--In that same interview, Francis went further, arguing that he and his bishops were being victimized: “No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.”

Make no mistake about it: Francis has been bold, even innovative, when it comes to reforming church governance, improving church finances and boosting church morale. His gentle, humble and down-to-earth demeanor has inspired millions. His plea to remember and reach out to the poor and marginalized has refocused millions on core Gospel values so often piously mouthed in churches but so often overlooked in real life.

Yet his refusal to chart a new course in this continuing crisis is disturbing. He had another terrific opportunity to do so when he came to the US. But he didn’t. He had another terrific opportunity when he was asked to rescind Barros’ appointment. But he didn’t.

On his US trip, in New York, Francis addressed the crisis a second time. This time, his audience was a group of nuns and priests. Again, the clerics were Francis’ main concern.

“I know that you suffered greatly. . .by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the Church in the most vulnerable of her members,” he said.

Finally, on his last day in the US, he spent 30 minutes with five people – two or three clergy sex abuse victims, the others victims of non-clergy predators. His remarks after that meeting were more sensitive.

But to some, however, it was “too little, too late.” And his defense of Barros is even more disturbing.

Francis “addresses” this crisis with more and more words. And words – whether clearer or stronger or whatever – don’t protect those who suffer from child sex crimes, don’t expose those who commit child sex crimes and don’t deter those who conceal child sex crimes.

Only action makes a difference, as the NCR’s Coday rightly points out. His blog ended with a clarion call: “Francis will need to show some deliberate, dramatic action to prove that he understands the gravity of this problem. After he shows he understands it, he will then have to prove that he will do something about it.”

At the risk of sounding cynical, we believe the pope “gets it.” He’s very smart. He understands this scandal and what must happen to fix and stop it.

But sadly, like his predecessors, he seems really incapable of showing the courage to tackle the crisis head on and demand the real reforms that will protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded, expose the truth and end the cover ups. His trip to the US and his attacks on his Chilean flock confirm this dismal diagnosis.

Finally, our hearts go out to Fr. Karadima victims Juan Carlos Cruz, Juan Hamilton and José Murillo, and Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for Osorno’s Lay Organization, and all who are showing real concern for children and compassion for children by denouncing Francis’ irresponsible promotion of Barros.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell,, Barbara Dorris (314-503-0003 cell,, Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747,   

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