Catholic World News

Pope defends words on abuse, in-flight wedding

January 22, 2018

Pope Francis defended his support for a Chilean bishop accused of ignoring clerical abuse, as well as his decision to preside at the impromptu wedding of two flight attendants, during an exchange with reporters who accompanied him on his return flight to Rome on January 22 at the conclusion of a visit to Chile and Peru.

Questioned about his support for Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, who had close ties to a notorious abusive priest, the Pope insisted that “I cannot condemn him without evidence.” He acknowledged that his public statements might have caused pain for victims of clerical abuse, but did not back away from his charge that the accusers of Bishop Barros were guilty of calumny. “To insist, without evidence of one thing or the other, is calumny,” the Pontiff stated. He told reporters that Chilean victims “gave no evidence” to support their claims that Bishop Barros concealed evidence of abuse. While the bishop’s critics had pressed their case with media representatives, the Pope said that “they didn’t present themselves” and thus he saw no evidence supporting their charges against Bishop Barros.

Speaking more generally about his stand on sexual abuse, in answer to follow-up questions, the Pontiff said that his special papal commission on the topic would continue its work, although the commission’s mandate has formally expired. He denied that the expiration was a sign that the commission was not a high priority. “Once it expires, a new committee will be studied,” he said. He disclosed that Vatican officials are now investigating the background of several people who might be named to the commission when its mandate is renewed.

Responding to criticism on another front, the Pope explained that he had agreed to perform a wedding ceremony for the flight attendants because ‘the sacraments are for the people.” He said that the couple had already done their preparation for a sacramental marriage in 2010, before their plans for a church wedding were thwarted by an earthquake that destroyed the church. Since that time, the Pope said, the couple had postponed the church ceremony. “Why not do what can be done today?” he reasoned. “Waiting for tomorrow would perhaps have meant waiting another ten years.”

In a question-and-answer session that saw him handling an unusual number of challenging queries from the media, the Pope dismissed suggestions that his visit to Chile could be characterized as a disappointment because of the small crowds that came out to see him. That negative assessment was a “fairy tale,” he said; he added that he “didn’t expect so many people” to greet him.


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  • Posted by: jeanneg117438 - Jan. 22, 2018 8:17 PM ET USA

    So ten YEARS before this attempt to commit matrimony, these folks underwent marriage preparation. Is there a half-life on that "preparation"? When does it expire? What if the prep had been thirty years before? My parish requires baptismal prep classes for each child, unless the births are less than 3 years apart. Seems there should be preparation before each attempted marriage. Maybe that would reduce the number of "invalid" marriages below a majority.

  • Posted by: Antonius86 - Jan. 22, 2018 7:04 PM ET USA

    The pope continued, "Your numbers are really, really not the correct estimation of my visit. Those were very, very, very enthusiastic crowds, really, it was unbelievable, no one in South America greets a pope with such crowds, nobody, absolutely nobody does it like they do in Chile. It was the greatest trip, hands down the best crowds, the highest number for any pontiff, anywhere, in any country, I don't know, but this is what they're telling me, that we had big-league crowds in Chile."