How are clergy sexual abuse survivors to grasp Pope Francis calling them “slanderers”?

Voice of Faithful often receives calls from survivors seeking assistance and comfort. We received one such call from a distraught survivor on the same day that news media reports circulated about Pope Francis calling survivors “slanderers” for accusing Bishop Juan Borros Madrid of Osorno, Chile, covering up their abuse.

The survivor had been part of the original settlement between his diocese and his abuser’s victims and says he now is being denied compensation for therapy that was part of the settlement. He must ask the diocese each time he wants to see a therapist and is being denied because the diocese apparently does not consider his therapy necessary.

He has spoken with several lawyers, presented his story to many local news outlets, sent letters to his bishop, and sent innumerable emails and letters and had many phone conversations with the diocese’s pastoral support office. He has exhausted all avenues through which he might expect to receive justice. Yet, he considers himself lucky because he has not turned to alcohol or drugs to dull his pain or suicide to end it, as other survivors have, and says he knows of some who will not deal with the diocese because of the agony of disbelief they would have to endure.

Stories like these remind us at VOTF that whatever words the hierarchy may use about clergy sexual abuse, real-life failures continue. That’s one reason why, having placed renewed hope for redress of the scandal in Pope Francis, his recent remarks during his visit to Chile about survivors being “slanderers” are so disconcerting.

Just before a Mass at the end of his visit to Chile, the pope is reported to have said, “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?” Earlier in his visit to Chile, the pope had wept with survivors, admonished Chile’s clergy for abuse and betrayed trust, apologized for “irreparable damage” done by abuse, and sought forgiveness from victims. Returning to Rome, the Pope is reported to have said he regretted the language of his remarks but maintained his support for Bishop Barros.

Which message should survivors hear – the Pope weeping with them and admonishing Chile’s clergy for abuse and betrayal of trust, apologizing for “irreparable” damage done by abuse, and seeking forgiveness? Or, calling them “slanderers” and demanding some sort of proof other than their testimony?

Sadly, our survivor’s story jibes more with the pope who accuses survivors of slander than the pope who weeps for suffering. His experience seems a case study in everything the Church has done wrong in addressing the abuse scandal and its victims/survivors.

VOTF has attempted to listen and to promote healing throughout the 15 years since Boston’s clergy sexual abuse crisis initiated our movement. We will continue to do so – and to insist on accountability for the bishops who covered up abuse and who even today are denying full justice for survivors.

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