It’s Now the Pope’s Scandal

Bishop Juan Barros (center) attends his first religious service as people protest against him at the Osorno cathedral in Chile, March 2015. (Reuters photo: Carlos Gutierrez)
What are we to make of news that Pope Francis was confronted with — and did not address — evidence of sex abuse in the Chilean Church?

Well, it’s now happened. The great scandal of the modern Catholic Church — its tolerance for clergy who abuse children, and its laxity when dealing with bishops who themselves tolerated or enabled priest-abusers — now touches directly on the pope himself.

It’s worth laying out the timeline clearly. In 2015, Pope Francis appointed Juan Barros Madrid to the bishopric of Osorno, Chile. The appointment was met with local protests, among Catholics and non-Catholics who believed that Barros was implicated in the crimes of child sexual abuse committed by his friend Father Fernando Karadima, a prominent Chilean churchman who habitually kissed and fondled boys. In the days after the installation of Barros at Osono, Pope Francis told an archbishop that there was “no objective reason at all” to oppose the appointment. The Vatican’s own department governing these matters, the Congregation for Bishops, released a statement saying they had “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

In the months following the appointment, Pope Francis became extremely dismissive of complaints. “Osorno suffers, yes, for silliness,” the pope said of the outrage in the media. “Think with your head, and do not be carried away by the noses of the leftists, who are the ones who put this thing together,” he added.

A few weeks ago, Pope Francis’s visit to Chile was marked by protests, and the pope continued his extremely brusque dismissal. “The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” the pontiff said. “There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?” Francis said that no victims had come forward to him. It was apparently this statement that caused Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston to scramble down to Chile and meet with the pope. After O’Malley’s intervention, presumably, the pope issued a half-apology, but repeated that the accusations against Barros were “slander” before adding, “I’m convinced he’s innocent.”

And now the news drops. In the time between the pope’s appointment of Barros and his commentary about protesters being carried away by leftists, members of the Vatican’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors gathered to discuss the appointment. They had a representative hand-deliver a letter to Pope Francis, from Carlos Cruz. The letter alleged, in lurid detail, that Barros had personally witnessed the abuse of Cruz at Karadima’s hands. Members of the commission photographed the hand-off of the letter to the pope, to reassure Cruz that they were doing everything possible to make his cry for justice heard.

The facts as we know them leave us with a few interpretations. 1) Pope Francis simply never read the letter, ignoring this extraordinary intervention by the Vatican’s own commission on a matter of public controversy for his pontificate. 2) Francis read the letter but forgot about it, reverting to his original understanding of the case. 3) Francis read the letter, but stuck to his decision for Barros, committing unintentional or intentional deceptions about the state of his knowledge of the accusations. 4) He read the letter, but either doubted the accusations in it, or at least found them so unimpressive that he did not decide to follow up on them.

The first explanation would mean that Francis was culpably ignorant. The second that he may lack the mental or moral faculties to competently govern the Catholic Church. The third that he is too stubborn or vain to change course in the face of evidence. And the last that he has little trust or faith in the Commission on the Protection of Minors to pass on credible counsel to him. Perhaps more reporting or disclosure will change our understanding, but none of these are satisfactory.

It’s worth noting here that the extraordinary resignation of Pope Benedict that led to Francis becoming pontiff is often credited to the Vatileaks scandal. While Benedict said his decision was made without coercion, it is widely believed that the unfolding scandal caused him to doubt the strength of his mental faculties to deal with it going forward.

The leaks about the hand-delivery of this letter to the pontiff may be evidence itself that senior churchmen are losing confidence in his pontificate. The barque of Peter sails into choppy waters.


On the Vatican’s Reported Capitulation to Beijing

Where Is the Catholic Church Headed?

Pope Francis Is Diminishing the Papacy. Good.

Most Popular


Put Up or Shut Up on These Accusations, Hillary

Look, one 2016 candidate being prone to wild and baseless accusations is enough. Appearing on Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s podcast, Hillary Clinton suggested that 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein was a “Russian asset,” that Republicans and Russians were promoting the Green Party, and ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More

Feminists Have Turned on Pornography

Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the feminist movement has sought to condemn traditional sexual ethics as repressive, misogynistic, and intolerant. As the 2010s come to a close, it might be fair to say that mainstream culture has reached the logical endpoint of this philosophy. Whereas older Americans ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Democrats Think They Can Win without You

A  few days ago, Ericka Anderson, an old friend of National Review, popped up in the pages of the New York Times lamenting that “the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion ... Read More
PC Culture

Defiant Dave Chappelle

When Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special Sticks & Stones came out in August, the overwhelming response from critics was that it was offensive, unacceptable garbage. Inkoo Kang of Slate declared that Chappelle’s “jokes make you wince.” Garrett Martin, in the online magazine Paste, maintained that the ... Read More