Francis’ comments on allegations against Bishop Barros make little sense

National Catholic Reporter

January 24, 2018

By Michael Sean Winters Vatican

Reading Pope Francis’ comments at the press conference on the flight back to Rome, regarding clergy sex abuse and the allegations against Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, and rereading them again and again, I confess I cannot make heads or tails out of them.

Pope Francis said at one point: “The word ‘proof’ was not the best, I would rather say ‘evidence.’ In Barros’ case, I have studied and restudied, there is no evidence to condemn him. And if I condemned without evidence or moral certainty, I would commit a crime of bad judgment.”

Related: Francis again cries ‘calumny’ defending bishop accused of abuse cover-up
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Later, in response to a follow-up question, the pope said, “I must apologize for what the abused feel. The word ‘proof’ has hurt many of them. They say: Do I have to go look for a certification? I apologize to them if I hurt them without realizing it, I didn’t mean to. And it causes me so much pain, because I meet them: in Chile two meetings are known to the public, the others have not been disclosed. In every trip, there is always a chance to meet the victims, the meeting of Philadelphia went public, but not the other cases. To hear that the Pope tells them: ‘bring me a letter with proof, is a slap’ I realize that my expression didn’t come out very well, and I understand, as Peter writes in one of his letters, that the fire has risen. That’s what I can honestly say.”

When asked about the remarkable statement from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, in which the cardinal bluntly spoke of the hurt caused by the pope’s earlier comments on this case, Francis said: “O’ Malley said that the Pope has always used ‘zero tolerance’… Then there is that ‘bad choice of words,’ I spoke of calumny, to say of someone who says something with pertinacity without having evidence. If I say: you stole, and you have not stolen, then I am libeling, because I have no evidence. It was an unfortunate expression. But I have not heard any victim of Barros. They did not come, they did not show themselves, they did not give evidence in court. It’s all in the air. It is true that Barros was in Karadima’s group of young people. But let us be clear: if you accuse someone without evidence with pertinacity, that is calumny. However, if a person arrives and gives me evidence, I will be the first to listen to them. O’ Malley’s statement was very right, and I have thanked him. He spoke about the pain of victims in general.”

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