Pope criticized for defending sex abuse scandal

Courtesy of Reuters Pope Francis has come under fire for his comments defending allegations of sexual misconduct.
Courtesy of Reuters
Pope Francis has come under fire for his comments defending allegations of sexual misconduct.


By Rachel Pierce | Staff Writer

The Catholic Church is going out of business. The steep decline in attendance has left leaders desperate to pull more members, particularly amongst millennials. However, Pope Francis’s comments in Chile only pushed them farther away.

According to TIME, Juan Barros was appointed as head of the diocese in Osorno, Southern Chile by Pope Francis in 2015. Though there are no claims of sexual assault against Barros, he is accused of covering up those committed by Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in 2011 for sexually assaulting three minors. The pope’s decision to not only protect but promote a leader who would protect a convicted child rapist infuriated citizens.

It would be one thing for the Pope to allow Barros to keep his job, but to promote the bishop after he deliberately ignored victims so Karadima could continue his priesthood just reinforces the notion that we still live in a world where church leaders endorse sexual predators.

As if tensions were not high enough, three churches were firebombed in Santiago in protest of the expense to host the pope. On a leaflet, vandals warned Francis that “the next bomb will be at your cassock.” Then the pope accused victims of “calumny,” by making claims to hurt the reputation of Karadima, Barros or the pope himself.

Pope Francis continued to defend his choice to promote Barros and stated that he would only be convinced otherwise “the day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros.”

According to the AP, Juan Carlos, a victim of Karadima said, “If he wanted evidence, why didn’t he reach out to us when we were willing to reaffirm the testimony?”

Pope Francis later acknowledged how his comments were being interpreted. He continued to apologize for his comments, and, according to TIME, recognized that his words “hurt a lot of people” and was a “slap in the face” to victims.

There are two obligations the Church faces: a business and a moral obligation.

The Church’s reputation of sexual assault has turned millennials away, especially considering their higher awareness of sexual assaults. The Church should be run like a business by staying in touch with the interests of its customers, millennials being said customers. By setting a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who sexually molests or anyone who knowingly covers it up, the Church could set a fresh tone, a tone that could attract millennials rather than push them away. But the pope’s comments are a step in the wrong direction.

As a Catholic myself, I am struggling to continue to support the Church. I was raised going to church every Sunday. I am also a lector for masses here at Duquesne. Though individual churches may have a different reputation, it’s hard to look past the overarching tone and years of abuse. As I’ve grown up, it is disappointing to see the reality of the church: corruption. The reputation of perpetuating sexual assault, as well as the practice of covering it up, has undoubtedly tarnished its reputation. I believe that Catholic millennials are practicing their faith in their daily lives more, praying at home rather than going to church. That is the price the church will have to pay, literally.

As for the moral obligation, it would seem obvious that the Church should protect victims. Corinthians 3:16-17 asks us, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person.” It seems that lot of priests would be “destroyed.”

The Crux reports that according to the Pew Forum, only twenty percent of Americans identify as Catholics. That’s a drop of three million since 2007. If churches wants to continue serving the public, leaders need to seriously compare their reputation and actions to the evolving moral standards of millennials.

Pope Francis is the most progressive pope we have had yet. He supports action to fight climate change, more acceptance of gays and, in fact, created a Vatican tribunal to try leaders accused of sexual assault. Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air, but his comments in Chile are a reminder that there is still work to be done within the church.