Pope Francis apologizes to abuse victims, but defends Chilean bishop

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"Francis, here there IS proof", read a banner hanging from a Lima building along his motorcade route Sunday.

Pope Francis apologised for comments he made about victims of paedophile clergy during his trip to South America, but repeated his defence of a bishop accused of protecting a predatory priest.

Juan Carlos Cruz, the most vocal of the accusers against Karadima and Barros who testified in court about the cover-up, responded with a statement to The Associated Press: "If he wanted evidence, why didn't he reach out to us when we were willing to reaffirm the testimony that not only us, but so many witnesses, have been providing for more than 15 years?" Karadima is a very well known priest in Chile and not for the best of reasons.

Francis said on the plane: "I know how much [abuse victims] suffer in hearing the pope say to them 'bring me a letter with the proof, ' I realise that it is a slap in their faces, and now I realise that my expression was an unfortunate one".

Cardinal O'Malley, while partly critical of the Pope, also defended the pontiff's commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on clerical sex abuse. "Is that clear?" the pope replied in a snippy tone.

Rejecting "acts of violence and destruction that end up taking human lives", the pope also spoke out against the signing of "elegant agreements that will never be put into practice", which he said is also violence, "because it frustrates hope".

Three of the victims testified before Chilean prosecutors and others have also said publicly for years that Barros, one of Karadima's proteges, witnessed the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

In both countries, the pope met with indigenous people and youth, clearly with an eye toward the Synod of Bishops on youth, scheduled for October at the Vatican, and the synod for the Amazon in 2019. (CNS photos/Paul Haring)Nuns wait for Pope Francis' arrival for mid-morning prayer with contemplative nuns at the Shrine of Our Lord of the Miracles in Lima on Jan. 21.

In the Church's long history, criticism from bishops aimed at the Pope is not uncommon. The Chilean government spokeswoman, Paula Narvaez, said there was an "ethical imperative to respect victims of sexual abuse, believe them and support them".

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The Pope said he regretted using the word "proof", saying he realised that it came off as a slap in the face.

The pope's most recent comments are unlikely to soothe tensions that have been running high in Chile in recent weeks, with several churches even becoming targets of arson attacks.

The 2015 appointment outraged Chileans and badly divided the Osorno diocese, where hundreds of lay Catholics and many priests have refused to accept Barros.

"If the Apostolic Signature decides in favor of the appeal, it will not make sense", he said, "because many, many serious cases are accumulating".

Francis ordered the Vatican to appoint an administrator to run the society, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a week before his trip.

In his role, Londoño, Bishop of Jericó, will oversee the community as they continue a process of reform.

"There are lots of abused people who cannot show proof". He was greeted by women standing with their babies in their arms.

Francis said that "covering up abuse is", according to Catholic News Service. "They were prepared, and I judged that they were prepared", he said.

Given the difficult work American bishops have done to address sexual abuse, it makes sense that O'Malley offered a response to the Pope.