Pope Francis accused victims of Chile's most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country. Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are "all calumny," the AP reports. The pope's remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it found Karadima guilty of sexually abusing young boys and sentenced him to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" for his crimes in 2011.
A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn't lacking. Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as a bishop. He met with abuse victims this week and begged for forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when a journalist asked about Barros. "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I'll speak," Francis said. "There is not one shred of proof against him." Barros' most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz, said the remarks showed "nothing has changed." "As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all," he tweeted.