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Pope Francis tells alleged sex abuse victims they committed slander

Pope Francis said sex abuse victims committed slander by accusing a bishop of a cover-up. (Dor Steffen/Getty Images)

Pope Francis traveled to Chile this week in a trip promoted as a way to bring healing to victims of alleged pedophile priests in the country. The pope offered apologies to the victims, but he also said some of them committed slander by accusing a bishop of trying to cover up alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, USA Today reports.

What happened?

During the trip, Francis spoke publicly about the need for healing, and he met in private with victims of alleged sexual abuse by priests, according to USA Today. The pope said he felt “pain and shame” over what happened. He also asked the victims for forgiveness.

"I know the pain of these cases of child abuse and I am following how much is needed to overcome this serious and painful evil,” the pope reportedly said during a mass Tuesday in Santiago attended by 400,000 people.

Francis acknowledged that the victims and their families placed their trust in the church’s ministers and now feel betrayed.

But the pope minced no words in striking down the victims' claim that Bishop Juan Barros tried to cover up the alleged crimes of Karadima, according to published reports. Following an investigation, the Vatican sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" back in 2011. He was also removed from ministry.

Speaking to a reporter about the victims, the pope held firm in his contention that Barros is not culpable.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak,” Francis reportedly told a Chilean journalist who asked him about Barros. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”

Karadima’s victims allege that Barros knew about it, saw it, and did nothing, according to USA Today.

Barros has denied the accusations.

Still, the pope's comment about slander left Chileans and the victims reeling, USA Today reported.

After the pope's comment, victims implied that since their accusations about Karadima rang true, the Vatican should also trust that they are telling the truth about Barros.

A Chilean judge had also agreed the victims were credible. Although charges against Karadima were dropped because too much time had gone by, there was plenty of proof of his crimes, the judge had said, according to the report.

In 2015, Francis reopened “wounds of the scandal” by naming Barros as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno, USA Today stated. Chileans were "outraged" by the appointment, and it divided the Osorno diocese, and further damaged the church's credibility in the nation.

Apology not accepted?

One of Barros’ most vocal accusers, Juan Carlos Cruz, called the pope’s apology “empty.”

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

Dating back to 2002, Karadima’s victims told church leaders that he kissed and fondled them in his Santiago parish. But the victims said their complaints were ignored until they went public, according to USA Today.

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