Pope Francis’ South America trip, billed as a pilgrimage of peace and unity, has struck a controversial chord after he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse.
In the port city of Iquique, Chile, his last stop before heading to Peru, Francis defended Bishop Juan Barros, telling reporters Thursday that the accusations amounted to slander, according to BioBioChile radio.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, that’s the day when I’ll talk,” Francis said.
Residents of the southern Chilean city of Osorno vehemently objected to Francis’ 2015 appointment of Barros as bishop there.
Accusers have said Barros covered up for the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of child sex abuse.
“There is not a single proof against him, everything is slander,” the Pope said of Barros.
According to Crux, a Catholic news outlet, Karadima was convicted of pedophilia and abuse of his position in 2011. He was sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer.
Barros has denied knowing about what he called the “serious abuses” of Karadima and has said he never approved or participated in those actions. In Chile, Pope Francis apologized to victims of abuse by priests. He also met privately with some of them.
Francis, a native of Argentina, is on a two-country, six-city apostolic visit that started in Chile and ends in Peru next week.
The environment and the plight of indigenous people are among the themes of Francis’ visit, according to the Vatican.
On Thursday, the Pope took a moment to marry two flight attendants on his papal plane some 36,000 feet over Chile.