SANTIAGO – Pope Francis dismissed on Thursday accusations against a Chilean bishop at the center of a child sexual abuse controversy during his visit to the South American country.
The pontiff said that allegations that Juan Barros, bishop of the diocese of Osorno, was complicit in the sexual abuse of minors by his friend and mentor lacked sufficient evidence.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll talk,” Francis told journalists after arriving in the northern Chilean city of Iquique, where he officiated his third and last mass in the Andean nation before moving on to Peru.
“There is not a single piece of evidence against him, it’s all smears,” the pope added.
Barros, who was ascended to the bishopric by Francis in March 2015, has been the focus of a national debate over the past few days due to his close relationship to Fernando Karadima, a parish priest who was found to have abused young boys.
In 2011, the Vatican ordered Karadima to live in prayer and penance after uncovering evidence of his repeated sexual abuse; a few years later, a Chilean court found him guilty of the crimes but was unable to sentence him due to the statute of limitations having elapsed.
One of Karadima’s victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, said that Barros had been present while he was being molested by the pedophile priest. Barros has denied the accusation.
Other victims claim Barros knew about the abuse but deliberately remained silent on his mentor’s actions.
Asked about his controversial participation in the papal tour, Barros said that “taking part in the mass is the greatest thing there is, and that’s what’s important to many people.”
On Monday, Francis said he felt “pain and shame” for the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy.
“Here I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church,” he said during a speech in the Chilean capital, Santiago.