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Rebuilding trust must be the priority

  • 24 January 2018


It's a common refrain from survivors of clerical sexual abuse, often heard when church leaders try to explain away their failure to listen and respond to the crimes of their peers: 'They just don't get it.'

Up until recently, Pope Francis has seemed to 'get it' in his response to the crisis of abuse. He has met with survivors in a number of countries, and has even written a preface to a book by a survivor. He launched the Pontifical Commission for Minors, and ensured victims had a voice on that commission.

But recent events have raised doubts on whether Francis really does 'get it'. The commission lost both of its survivor representatives, first Peter Saunders and then Marie Collins stepping down last year. The commission's term expired in December, with no word on what might be happening in the future. And, most recently, the Pope has tried to defend a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse by accusing survivors of slander.

During his three-day visit to Chile, Francis faced protests from survivors and activists angered by his 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to the Diocese of Osorno. Barros has been accused of covering up the crimes of his friend Father Fernando Karadima, who was convicted of abuse by a Vatican tribunal in 2011. Barros has insisted that he neither knew nor suspected anything of the abuses.

The Vatican has defended Barros' appointment a number of times, but it was always going to be raised during the Pope's visit. Asked about the issue on his last day in Chile, the Pope responded, 'The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I'll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?'

The response angered victims and activists around the world. One of Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, tweeted: 'As If I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all ... (T)he pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.'

The comments have once again set abuse survivors and their supporters in opposition to the Catholic Church. Francis issued an apology for the 'slap in the face' to victims, but continued to defend Barros, calling for 'evidence' to be brought forward. In this case, it seems, the word of survivors is not evidence enough.


"Beyond the question