Pope Francis Accuses Bishop's Critics Of Slander, angering Chile abuse victims

The Pope said there was "no proof" for their claims that abuse by Father Fernando Karadima had been covered up by Bishop Juan Barros

Pope Francis has caused anger in Chile after accusing victims of paedophile priest of slander.

The Pope said there was "no proof" for their claims that abuse by Father Fernando Karadima had been covered up by another man, Bishop Juan Barros.

"There is not one single piece of proof against him (Bishop Barros). It is all slander. Is that clear?" the Pope said.

Francis arrived in Peru late on Thursday for a three-day visit which will conclude his two-nation South America trip. The Pope made his comments on Thursday before celebrating Mass outside the city of Iquique in northern Chile.

The trip was seen by many as a bid to revive the church’s credibility in the South American country after a sex scandal in which Bishop Juan Barros was accused of concealing the crimes of the pedophile Reverend Fernando Karadima. Barros has denied the claims.

Karadima was first reported to the church in 2002 over allegations he would kiss and fondle his adolescent parishioners in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

An official Vatican investigation was launched in 2010 after his victims went public with their complaints. While the Catholic Church removed him from the ministry and sentenced him to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2011,  Karadima escaped criminal charges because the statute of limitations had elapsed.

One Karadima victim said the Pope's earlier plea for forgiveness over clerical sex abuse was "empty".

"The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk," the Pope told journalists.

Juan Carlos Cruz was one of the bishop's accusers who was quick to condemn the Pope's comments.

"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," he tweeted.

"These people are absolutely crazy, and @Pontifex (the Pope's Twitter handle) is talking about reparation to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty."

Another Barros accuser, James Hamilton, told a news conference the response revealed an "unknown face" of the pontiff.

"What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses," he said.

Earlier in his Chile trip, Francis had met victims of sexual abuse by priests in the country. He cried with them and said he felt "pain and shame" over the scandal.

The US-based NGO Bishop Accountability says almost 80 members of Catholic clergy have been accused of child sex abuse in Chile since 2000.

More in World