Pope Francis apologized for insisting that victims of pedophile priests show "proof" to be believed, saying he realized it was a "slap in the face" to victims that he never intended. But he doubled down on defending a Chilean bishop accused by victims of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest, and he repeated that anyone who makes such accusations without providing evidence is guilty of slander, per the AP. Francis issued the partial mea culpa in an airborne press conference late Sunday as he returned home from Chile and Peru, where the clergy abuse scandal and his own comments about it plunged the Chilean church into renewed crisis and revived questions about whether Francis "gets it" about abuse.
Francis insisted that to date no one had provided him with evidence that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in keeping quiet about the perversions of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the charismatic Chilean priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for molesting and fondling minors in his Santiago parish. Flying home from the most contested trip of his papacy, Francis said Barros would remain bishop of Osorno, Chile, as long as there's no evidence implicating him in the cover-up. "I can't condemn him because I don't have evidence," Francis said. "But I'm also convinced that he's innocent." Karadima's victims have said for years that Barros witnessed the abuse and did nothing to stop it. "The best thing is for those who believe this to bring the evidence forward," Francis said.