I first asked the question, “Where Does Pope Francis Really Stand on Clerical Sex Abuse?” in October of 2015. One of the two cases I cited was that of his episcopal appointment to Osorno, Chile, Bishop Juan Barros. At the time, despite serious evidence that something was very much amiss in the pope’s promised “zero tolerance” policy on clerical abusers, it seemed almost nobody else was interested in the answer.
That is no longer the case.
In an exclusive report from the Associated Press this morning, it has been revealed that Pope Francis received a letter from clerical abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz in 2015 — one of the victims of Chilean priest Fr. Fernando Karadima — accusing Barros of witnessing and ignoring the abuse of Karadima. Despite recent, highly controversial denials from the pope that anyone had come forward against Barros, both Cruz and the pope’s own sex-abuse commission have confirmed that the letter was given to Francis, and a photo has been released showing Marie Collins, the member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors who resigned last year in frustration, handing the letter to Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the commission’s prefect. Collins was one of the members of the commission who was also a victim of clerical abuse.
From the AP story:
“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,” then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. “And at a later date, he assured us that that had been done.”
Cruz, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, heard the same later that year.
“Cardinal O’Malley called me after the pope’s visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands,” he said in an interview at his home Sunday.
Neither the Vatican nor O’Malley responded to multiple requests for comment.
It is telling that on a matter this significant, the Vatican remains silent.
Cruz makes uncomfortable claims in the eight-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, saying that Karadima and Barros would engage in “homo-eroticized” acts, and that Karadima would also extend this behavior to younger males:
He described how Karadima would kiss Barros and fondle his genitals, and do the same with younger priests and teens, and how young priests and seminarians would fight to sit next to Karadima at the table to receive his affections.
“More difficult and tough was when we were in Karadima’s room and Juan Barros — if he wasn’t kissing Karadima — would watch when Karadima would touch us — the minors — and make us kiss him, saying: ‘Put your mouth near mine and stick out your tongue.’ He would stick his out and kiss us with his tongue,” Cruz told the pope. “Juan Barros was a witness to all this innumerable times, not just with me but with others as well.”
“Juan Barros covered up everything that I have told you,” he added.
Last week, it was announced that Pope Francis had assigned Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to investigate the Barros case. Scicluna, considered to be a top expert on such matters, spent nearly two decades working on abuse cases for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) as the congregation’s promoter of justice. In 2015, he was picked by Pope Francis to lead a team handling appeals filed by members of the clergy accused of abuse.
With the revelation of the 2015 letter following the pope’s denials that anyone had come forward, an increasing number of voices are now being raised in question of his commitment to helping victims of abuse. The information that has come to light in this matter should also cast doubt on whether the pope is a man of his word at all.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.