Letter To Pope Ties Bishop To Sex Abuse That Francis Denied Knowing About

A victim’s graphic letter describing sexual abuse by a priest that was witnessed by a controversial Chilean bishop was hand-delivered to Pope Francis three years ago — contradicting the pontiff’s claims that he was unaware anyone had come forward about a coverup, The Associated Press reports.

The eight-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by the AP, was reportedly delivered to the pope by Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley in 2015. The letter detailed sexual abuse that the victim said was witnessed by Bishop Juan Barros, according to AP.

The Vatican didn’t comment on the report. But last week, the Vatican suddenly announced that new details had emerged about Barros, and that it was sending its top sex-crimes investigator to “listen to those who want to submit information in their possession,” Reuters reported.

The letter and its history emerged after the pope’s contentious visit to Chile last month. He apologized and expressed compassion for victims of clergy sexual abuse. But he also staunchly defended Barros, whom many accuse of covering up abuse by notorious pedophile the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Francis even accused critics of Barros of slander. He said that there was no evidence linking the bishop to abuse, and that no victims had come forward.

But four members of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors told AP that they flew to Rome in 2015 and met with O’Malley to discuss their concerns about the pope’s appointment of Barros that year as a bishop of Osorno, Chile, over objections. O’Malley, who has had extensive experience dealing with sex abuse in Boston, is president the Commission for the Protection of Minors. The commission members gave O’Malley the letter from the victim, and asked him to deliver it to Francis.

“He assured us he would give it to the pope and speak of the concerns,’’ then-commission member Marie Collins told the AP. ‘‘At a later date, he assured us that that had been done.’’

The victim, Juan Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, told AP that O’Malley also told him the letter was delivered.

‘‘Cardinal O’Malley called me after the pope’s visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the pope — in his hands,’’ Cruz said in an interview at his home Sunday.

Cruz came forward with the letter after reading news accounts about the pope denying knowing of any victims implicating Barros. The letter tells how Cruz wanted to kill himself after repeated abuse. He talked of a circle of boys and young men around Karadima who were repeatedly abused while Barros was often present.

Karadima was sentenced by the church in 2011 to a lifetime of ‘‘penance and prayer’’ for his crimes. He was not convicted in a court because too much time had elapsed since his crimes and he could not legally be prosecuted.

Karadima, 87, currently lives in a home for elderly priests in Santiago.

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