Chile controversy contrasts with image of Pope Francis as a leveler

National Catholic Reporter

January 23, 2018

by Ken Briggs

Pope Francis is suddenly in the midst of a crisis that could damage his papacy irreparably. It swirls around his handling of an issue millions of his admirers believed he was especially equipped to resolve — clergy sex abuse. His personal touch, marked by modesty, candor, compassion, social justice and humor raised hopes that he could stanch the scandalous bleeding. Such optimism arguably became decisive in his election to the papacy.

But that potential is being questioned by his testy reactions this past week to criticism that Bishop Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop he appointed in 2015, had covered up many sexual crimes by a high-profile priest, Fr. Fernando Karadima, a close associate of Barros’. The Vatican found Karadima guilty in 2011.

Francis’ open, charming demeanor faded as he angrily chided critics, including those claiming to have been victims of the priest, who contend Barros buried evidence.

Francis bluntly dismissed that charge as hollow “slander.”

“It is calumny,” he snapped. “Is that clear?” Denying any evidence against the bishop, he added, “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak.”

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