New York Review of Books
January 24, 2018
By Ariel Dorfman
There were certain words that Chileans were hoping that Pope Francis would say during his three-day visit to our country last week. They were hoping he would denounce the sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic clergy, and particularly the offenses perpetrated by a corrupt and malevolent priest named Fernando Karadima. They were also waiting for Francis to condemn the hierarchs in the Catholic Church who had silenced and humiliated the victims and helped to cover up Karadima’s crimes. Above all, my compatriots wanted the pope to publicly chide Bishop Juan Barros, who had been Karadima’s protégé and, according to reports (denied by Barros), had witnessed his mentor’s pedophilia. The issue of Barros mattered symbolically because the pope himself, in 2015, had appointed this collaborator of Karadima’s as the bishop of Osorno, a city in southern Chile, in spite of angry complaints from the congregation.
In an op-ed I wrote for The New York Times that appeared just before the papal visit, I argued that, for Chileans, the way in which Francis handled this case would be a critical test of whether he could restore the prestige of the disgraced local Church, so wounded by these scandals, to the noble place it had held in public sympathy for decades because of its brave opposition to the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973–1990). Pope Francis failed that test.
He did express “shame and pain” at the abuse of minors by members of the clergy, and he did hold a brief meeting with some of the victims—though not with any of those who had been mistreated by Karadima, or with anyone who has blamed Barros for his connivance. But Barros was flagrantly present at three ceremonies over which the pope officiated in Chile during the visit, and on one occasion, the pontiff embraced the bishop and kissed him on the cheek in a display of affection and support.
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