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Since the beginning of his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has been praised and admired for his surprisingly progressive views on social justice and the climate crisis. And he has also been vocal about the clericalism that exists in the Catholic Church and taken many steps to show that he, as pope, wants to move away from such clericalism: he chose to live in the modest Santa Marta residence instead of the traditional papal apartments; he chose to be driven around in a used car instead of the traditional papal limousine; for his first official outing, he chose Lampedusa, the Italian island where thousands of refugees from Africa that Europe seeks to turn away regularly arrive; he sometimes invites the outcasts to his table to share a meal with him.
Recognizing all this, Ovide Bastien argues that Pope Francis nevertheless remains immersed in clericalism. And to demonstrate this, he describes in detail what he calls the pope's worst blunder to date, the one he made, during his visit to Chile in January 2018 in the case of the notorious priest abuser, Fernando Karadima. In all his public appearances, Pope Francis allowed Bishop Juan Barros to stand by his side, the man who, according to Karadima’s victims, not only covered up for this priest abuser but was even often in the room witnessing the abuse as it happened! And when a reporter questioned the appropriateness of allowing Bishop Barros to stand by his side, Pope Francis snapped back that there was no proof whatsoever against this bishop and that what Karadima survivors were saying was mere slander.
We know that the Pope, upon returning to Rome rapidly realized that his blunder had sparked an international media storm, causing his credibility to plummet. And he immediately made a U-turn: he sent two investigators to Chile, read their devastating report, invited three of Karadima's victims to his Santa Marta residence in Rome, apologized for his blunder, which he insisted was due to the fact that he had been misinformed, and finally, publicly reprimanded the Chilean bishops by summoning them to Rome where they collectively submitted their resignations.
This dramatic turnaround was interpreted by many as a sign that Pope Francis was tackling head on the clericalism underlying clergy abuse. Bastien disagrees. He says this turnaround represents, above all, an attempt by the pope to restore his credibility as a leader. By attributing his blunder to the fact that he was misinformed, he was, for all intents and purposes, turning the Chilean episcopate into an expiatory sheep, causing public opinion to turn away from his own clericalist and non-evangelical attitude towards the Chilean victims, and to focus squarely on that of the Chilean bishops.
Bastien shows that Pope Francis' attitude towards the victims of Karadima is no different from the attitude he adopted toward the victims of abusive priests in Argentina when he served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. No different either from the attitude he adopted in 2020 toward the victims of his former right-hand man in the Vatican, Australian Cardinal George Pell.