Francis said there was no evidence against Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who accusers say protected pedophile priest Rev. Fernando Karadima and was therefore complicit in his crimes.
“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”
Karadima, the former head of the El Bosque parish in Santiago, was sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer for his abuse of young boys.
Francis drew criticism for his remarks, with a prominent Barros accuser, James Hamilton, saying the comments revealed an “unknown face” of the Pope.
“What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses,” Hamilton said.
Juan Carlos Cruz, another Barros accuser, said the pontiff’s “plea for forgiveness is empty.”
“As if I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others with Juan Barros standing next to him watching everything,” Cruz said.
“Pope Francis’ attack on the Karadima victims is a stunning setback,” Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said. “He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?”
The statements come as the Pope continues his trip in South America, visiting Chile and Peru.
Francis, after attending a celebratory Mass in Iquique, Chile, came to the aid of a policewoman who was thrown from her horse — staying with the fallen officer until an ambulance arrived and offering her “words of consolation.”
Earlier that day, the pontiff performed a wedding ceremony for two flight attendants on a plane mid-flight.
On Friday, Pope Francis landed in Peru as part of the second leg of his trip — meeting with the Mapuche people and other indigenous representatives throughout the Amazon.
“You hear the same themes around the Amazon, exploitation and greed,” Rev. Francis Alleyne, bishop of Georgetown, Guyana, said. “His message is about caring, not exploiting, and I think that goes beyond the Amazon. It is a message to the world.”
Alleyne and another 19 bishops from nine different countries met with the pontiff to discuss methods to move forward on environmental protections for the Amazon, a region marked by deforestation and mining.
“The issues in Madre de Dios are the issues the pope addresses in the encyclical. The focus on the Amazon is the opportunity to get the traction that is needed,” Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund’s director for climate and energy, said.