Pope Francis found himself courting controversy on a recent visit to Chile when he defended Bishop Juan Barros, who has been accused of covering up the actions of a pedophile priest. Francis insisted that he considers the allegations against the bishop "slander" because nobody has ever come forward with evidence against Barros. But now the AP reports that the pope received an eight-page letter in 2015 from a victim in which the man asserts that Barros didn't just cover up abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, he personally witnessed it. Details and developments:
- The letter: It was written by Juan Carlos Cruz and delivered to to Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a top papal adviser on the abuse issue, by members of the pope's own Commission for the Protection of Minors in April 2015. "When we gave him (O'Malley) the letter for the pope, he assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns," says panel member Marie Collins. "And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done." In fact, the presentation of the letter to O'Malley was commemorated in a photo. Cruz tells the BBC that he, too, was later assured by O'Malley that the pope had received it.
- Did he read it? It's impossible to say whether Francis actually read the letter, but the New York Times lays out the questions: "Did he read the letter and decide not to tell reporters about it? Did he choose to believe Bishop Barros over Mr. Cruz? Or did he never read the letter, or perhaps read it but forget about it?" Another former commission member calls it all "willful blindness" on the part of Francis.
- The allegations: In his letter, Cruz says that Karadima would routinely fondle and kiss boys, teens, and even fellow priests. "Karadima would say to me: 'Put your mouth next to mine and stick out your tongue.' He'd stick out his and kiss us with his tongue. Juan Barros witnessed all of this on countless occasions, not just in my case but in the case of others as well." Barros has adamantly denied the allegations.
- Implicating Barros: Another excerpt goes even further in implicating Barros. "Holy Father, Juan Barros says he saw nothing and yet, there are dozens of us who can testify to the fact that not only was he present when Karadima abused us, but that he, too, kissed Karadima and they touched each other," wrote Cruz. He also attached an earlier letter he had written to a Vatican official in Chile accusing Barros of "doing all the dirty work" of Karadima.
- New investigation: The pope said last week that he is sending an archbishop to Chile to look into the allegations against Barros, per the BBC.
- A distinction: A priest and ethics professor tells the Catholic News Agency that the allegations against Barros are "particular" in that he was a young priest, not a bishop, when he allegedly witnessed Karadima's actions. "His alleged failure to report did not constitute episcopal negligence, and yet his being somehow an accessory, at least insofar as he is accused of not having stopped a crime from taking place, would constitute the negligence of someone who is now a bishop."
- Where's Karadima? Now 87, he lives in a home for elderly priests in Chile. After finding him guilty of abusing minors from 1980 to 1995, the Vatican removed him from the ministry in 2011 and sentenced him to "penance and prayers."
(Read more Pope Francis