#AceNewsReport – Feb.18: The announcement of the new members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors came on the same day that a Vatican investigator will take the testimony in New York of one of the main whistleblowers in the Chilean cover-up scandal: Francis tasked Archbishop Charles Scicluna with the fact-finding mission into Bishop Juan Barros after he came under blistering criticism in Chile for defending Barros and calling the victims’ cover-up accusations against him slander #AceNewsDesk reports
Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, center, during a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, far right, on Thursday near Iquique, Chile. The pope said there was “not one single piece of evidence” that Bishop Barros had protected a pedophile priest. Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Pope revives lapsed sex abuse commission amid skepticism after the initial three-year mandate of commission members had lapsed two months ago, on Dec. 17. Francis named nine new members Saturday and kept seven from the initial group. A Vatican statement said survivors of abuse are included, but didn’t identify them to protect their privacy: None of the most outspoken lay advocates for victims from the original group returned, but a statement stressed that the commission’s work would be imbued throughout with the experience of victims……..Commission members are to open their April plenary by meeting with victims privately, and discussions are continuing to create an “international survivor advisory panel” to advise the commission and make sure the voices of victims are heard in all its deliberations, the statement said:
The new members are noteworthy for their geographic representation, hailing from Tonga, Brazil, Ethiopia and Australia, among other places.
“The newly appointed members will add to the commission’s global perspective in the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the commission’s president……….Francis has insisted he has “zero tolerance” for abuse and had pledged to hold bishops accountable when they botch cases. But there have been several well-known cases where he and the Vatican sided with the accused over victims, calling into question whether he shares the “victims first” policy that guides his own commission’s work……The Barros case is the most prominent example. Victims of Chile’s most notorious predator priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, have for years accused Barros of witnessing their abuse, ignoring it and defending Karadima.
En route home from Chile, though, Francis insisted he had no “evidence” against Barros to warrant removing him. The Associated Press, though, reported that he received a letter from a Karadima victim, Juan Carlos Cruz, in April 2015 detailing the abuse he suffered and Barros’ presence while it happened.
Francis’ defiant defense of Barros suggested that he find Cruz or the other victims credible, and believed instead Barros’ ecclesial supporters in Chile and at the Vatican.
Cruz testifies Saturday before Scicluna, who was the architect of the Vatican’s get-tough approach to sex abuse in the early 2000s. Several recent cases, however, indicate that the Vatican under Francis doesn’t favor the “one strike and you’re out” approach adopted by the U.S. bishops, for example, after the scandal exploded there in 2002.
Francis himself has admitted that he opts to give offenders the benefit of the doubt, especially when solid proof — often hard to come by in decades-old sex abuse cases — is lacking.
“As must be done in good jurisprudence, always in favor of the offender,” he told reporters Jan. 21 en route home from South America.
Francis applied that concept in the case of the Rev. Mauro Inzoli, a well-known Italian priest defrocked by the Vatican for having abused children as young as 12. He had his sentence reduced on appeal to a lifetime of penance and prayer in 2014 after what his bishop said was a show of mercy from Francis. But in 2016, an Italian judge convicted Inzoli of abusing five children aged 12-16 and sentenced him to four years, nine months in prison. The Vatican opened a new church trial against him and in 2017 he was definitively defrocked.
Francis has held out the Inzoli case as an exception, where he opted for a lesser sanction.
But Italy’s Il Mattino newspaper has had a series of exposes about another case where the Vatican under Francis opted to take the priest’s word over that of the victim’s.
The victim in that case accused the Rev. Silverio Mura, a parish priest in Ponticelli, of raping him as a 13-year-old. He came forward in 2010 to accuse Mura, after remembering the abuse during the therapy he was undergoing for the panic attacks, depression and other medically certified reactions to his childhood trauma.
But the case, investigated by the archdiocese of Naples, was shelved in 2016 for lack of proof.
The victim had declined to submit to a second diocesan psychiatric evaluation after the first one subjected him to a “savage” police-style interrogation that sought to destroy his fragile defenses, according to a letter to the archdiocese’ psychiatrist from the victim’s personal psychiatrist, Dr. Alfonso Rossi.
Il Mattino this month reported, however, that other victims have since come forward alleging similar rapes.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke confirmed Saturday that the case was now revived, on the express wishes of Francis. He said it had never been archived, just dormant “awaiting other elements of proof.”
Il Mattino, however, reported Feb. 4 that the priest had been sanctioned based on the evidence already given. “Quickly admonish the priest,” was the recommendation included in the file in the archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Il Mattino reported: SANTIAGO, Chile — A number of Chilean Catholics reacted with disappointment and anger on Friday, a day after Pope Francis spoke in defense of a bishop who they say protected a pedophile priest. The remarks, made on Thursday just before Francis left Chile for Peru, upended his efforts to rehabilitate the Catholic Church’s reputation while visiting South America.
Francis told reporters Thursday there was not a shred of evidence against Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious priest, have accused of being complicit in his crimes.
“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said before celebrating Mass outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”
The pope’s comments set off a storm in Chile, raising questions about his commitment to repairing the damage from sexual abuse scandals and improving the decline in the church’s image and following in the traditionally devout country.
Benito Baranda, coordinator of the pope’s visit to Chile, told a radio station in Santiago that Bishop Barros “should have ceased to be bishop a long time ago.” He added: “The damage he is inflicting on the church is big.”
Mr. Baranda, a psychologist, said that the church “never believed Karadima’s victims from the start” and that the pope’s support for the bishop “reignites the feeling of not being believed, or that they are exaggerating or being deceitful. It’s like when children say they suffer abuse but no one believes them because they are children.”
However, the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, Msgr. Santiago Silva, said the organization would “unconditionally support” the pope’s position on Bishop Barros. “The pope told us what he wants, and he wants Monsignor Barros to continue,” Monsignor Silva said.
Alejandro Goic, the bishop of Rancagua, said that what “the pope says has extraordinary value,” but he added that “the church’s main priority should be the victims.”
Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that monitors abuse cases, called the pope’s remarks “a stunning setback.”
She added: “He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”
And the government’s spokeswoman, Paula Narváez, said on her Twitter account: “Respecting, believing and supporting victims of sexual abuse is an ethical imperative. No institutional defense can override this basic principle for a fair society, one that is empathetic with those who most need it.”
Father Karadima was convicted by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing teenage boys beginning in the 1980s, and he was ordered to lead a “life of prayer and penitence.” That year, a judge found the allegations “truthful and reliable” but dismissed a criminal case because the statute of limitations had expired.
Bishop Barros, a former military chaplain, was part of Father Karadima’s inner circle and, according to one of the victims, witnessed the priest’s advances on him.
“As if I could have taken a selfie or picture while Karadima abused me or others and Juan Barros stood there watching it all,” one of Father Karadima’s victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, wrote on Twitter.
Despite the allegations against Father Barros, Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno, in southern Chile, in 2015. Dozens of priests and legislators said they opposed the move.
The pope told a group of tourists visiting Vatican City in 2015 that people in Orsono who protested the appointment were “dumb.”
“The Osorno community is suffering because it’s dumb,” he said, according to video recorded by one of the tourists. The city had “let its head be filled with what politicians say, judging a bishop without any proof.”
This week, lay and religious groups from Osorno and Santiago, the capital, protested throughout the pope’s visit and called for action against the bishop.
But Bishop Barros has continued to enjoy the support of the Vatican, and there was no public indication that Francis was reconsidering his position. Bishop Barros participated in the pope’s ceremonies in Santiago, Iquique and the southern city of Temuco. In Iquique, Bishop Barros told reporters that Francis had offered him “words of support and affection.”
The Associated Press reported that Francis had acknowledged the furor over the legacy of Father Karadima in a 2015 letter to the Chilean bishop’s conference. The letter said the pope proposed Bishop Barros and two other bishops go on sabbatical before taking up any new positions, a plan that ultimately fell apart.
Francis began his visit to Chile on Tuesday morning by publicly apologizing for the sexual abuse involving the clergy, saying he felt “pained and ashamed” over the “irreparable damage” done to their victims. But he refused to meet with victims of Father Karadima.
“What the pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses,” James Hamilton, one of the victims, said during a news conference Thursday.
The archbishop of Santiago, Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who has been harshly criticized by Father Karadima’s victims for failing to protect them or investigate their accusations at the time, said the controversy over Bishop Barros was an “invention.”
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