Last week, on his visit to Chile, Pope Francis accused sex abuse victims of slandering a bishop that they claim had protected a pedophile priest.
In 2015, the Pope appointed Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno, Chile despite allegations that Barros protected Fr. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of child sexual abuse. After convicting Karadima of abusing teenage boys in 2011, the Vatican sent him to live a cloistered life of “penitence and prayer” in a Chilean convent. The judge dismissed criminal charges against Karadima because the statute of limitations had expired.
At the time, victims alleged that Barros knew about the priest's abuse but did nothing to stop or report it. However, Barros continues to deny the allegations, and Pope Francis supports him. Even as recent as last week, the Pope maintains that Barros’ is innocent. “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said. The refusal to take action is not only offensive to victims, but it discourages survivors from coming forward and reporting their abuse because the only proof they have is their own testimony.
The comment was highly criticized by victims, their advocates, and the media, that the Pope apologized though he maintains Barro’s innocence. It remains to be seen whether the Vatican and Pope Francis, who promised “zero tolerance” for perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse, will start taking these matters more seriously.
Not only did I just watch the Nassar trial, but I also have first-hand experience in trying a sexual abuse case. In fact, it was the most challenging case of my legal career. At the time, no one could believe that a priest could engage in such vile conduct with a young parishioner. And, these cases were pursued without the press notoriety of today.
I am hopeful that the Nassar scandal will give all sexual abuse victims not only hope, but also a voice. The burden of proof should rest with the abuser and those that help conceal the truth; not the victims. It's not time for apologies anymore; it's time for action.