‘Calumny,’ yes, but the right object?

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

January 20, 2018

I had to look up the word “calumny” while reading about Pope Francis’ disastrous trip to Chile, where he angered victims of clergy sexual abuse by defending a bishop accused of covering up the crimes of a fellow priest.

“There is not one shred of proof against him,” the pope told a reporter who asked about Bishop Juan Barros last week. “It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Crystal, Your Eminence. For the record, the word “calumny” means “the making of false and defamatory statements in order to damage someone’s reputation; slander.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, synonyms include “character assassination” and “evil-speaking.”

Calumny. Let that word sink it. That’s how the pope described the credible claims of victims who insist that Juan Barros did nothing to stop the Rev. Fernando Karadima from abusing dozens of minors over a decades-long period starting in the 1980s. Karadima is a notorious disgraced priest who served in the Chilean city of Osorno until he was dismissed in 2011.

His victims say Barros, Karadima’s protégé, knew about the priest’s abuse, with one man even claiming that Barros was present when Karadima groped him and another boy. Yet Barros remained silent and never reported it.

With what we know about the clergy sex scandal, is that really so hard to believe? Even here in Worcester, and in Boston and elsewhere, there was a clear pattern that bishops and clergy were aware that children were being abused by priests, yet they did nothing. But even now, rather than speak for the victims of abuse whom the pope has long purported to defend, he instead accused them of slander.

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