Pope Francis defended a bishop accused of covering up pedophilia during a visit to Chile by labeling sex abuse victims as slanderous.

According to the Associated Press, Francis made the comments to reporters while discussing Rev. Fernando Karadima, a member of the Catholic Church found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors.

The Pope stated that until proof surfaces showing that Bishop Juan Barros helped cover up Karadima’s actions, accusations made against him are “all calumny,” or maliciously false.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican to a lifetime of “penance and prayer,” was never charged in a criminal court due to the amount of time that had passed since the abuse.

Juan Carlos Cruz, who says Barros stood by and watched while he was abused by Karadima as a child, argued the Pope’s comments show “Nothing has changed” in the church.

“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,” Cruz said. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

The scandal, dating back to 2002 when Karadima’s victims first attempted to alert the church, was reignited in 2015 when Francis chose Barros to be the bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno.

Catholics and priests, the AP says, “staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.”

“His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno diocese and further undermined the church’s already shaky credibility in the country,” the AP added.

The Pope’s latest remark has undoubtedly made the situation even more dire for the Catholic Church.

Patricio Navia, a political science professor at Santiago’s Diego Portales University, also noted that the Karadima situation has caused Chilean parents to second-guess their children’s Catholic education.

“In the typical Chilean family, parents (now) think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen,” Navia told the AP.

In June of last year, George Pell, the church’s 3rd highest ranking Catholic cardinal and top aide to Francis, was charged with sexual assault in Australia.


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