Few global figures have enjoyed a more positive public image recently than Pope Francis, the remarkably popular leader of the Catholic Church. But a newly released video that appears to show the pope calling critics of the church's actions in Chile "dumb" has prompted fresh protests in the Latin American country – and could also harm the pontiff's reputation internationally.
The video, aired by a Chilean TV channel last week, was initially filmed at the Vatican in May. According to Catholic news Web site Crux, the video shows Jaime Coiro, a former spokesman for the Chilean Bishops Conference, greeting Francis in St Peter's Square.
In the video, Francis talks about criticism that the Catholic church in Chile was facing at the time. The appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to the Osorno, Chile, diocese had drawn protests throughout the country due to accusations that Barros had helped cover up the sexual abuse of minors by his then-superior, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, and may have witnessed some of the abuse himself.
The Vatican found Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors in 2011 and sentenced him to a "life of prayer and penitence." While Barros spent more than 30 years working with Karadima, he has denied any cover-up, and the Vatican released a short statement offering a defense of the bishop's appointment in March. The newly released video, however, shows Francis going much further – not only angrily defending Barros's appointment, but seemingly insulting the intelligence of protesters.
In the footage, the pope tells a group of tourists that Osorno’s church has “lost its freedom, allowing politicians to fill people’s heads, judging a bishop without any evidence, a man who’s been a bishop for 20 years." Francis goes on to say: "Think with your heads. Don’t let them lead you by the nose, all these fools who have stirred this thing up."
The pope adds that "the only accusation against this bishop was dismissed by the court," drawing out the syllables for emphasis. "Please, don’t lose your calm. Osorno is suffering, yes, but for being dumb," he says in the video.
"It is not opening its heart to what God says," Francis says of Orsorno. "It’s let itself be led by the lies that these people say. I’m the first one to judge and punish someone who faces accusations of this type. But in this case? There’s not a shred of evidence – on the contrary. From my heart I tell you… help me in this. Don’t let yourself be led by the noses; this causes problems and calumny."
It is unclear how Chilean media acquired the footage, though Coiro has said that the video was recorded by an Argentine using an iPad and standing nearby. Notably, while the pope appears to say that the investigation into an alleged cover-up of Karadima's abuses was closed, the New York Times notes that the investigation is, in fact, still ongoing. The pope's reference to politicians in the video appears to be a reference to Chilean members of parliament who had signed a petition opposing Barros's nomination.
The video of Francis's comments was published online Friday and has sparked outrage against the Chilean Catholic Church, with renewed protests in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Osorno over the weekend calling on the Vatican to remove Barros from his post. According to Crux, Barros released a short statement after the video was posted.
“I have great gratitude for the pope’s support and I pray that we will all work together in peace for the good of Osorno," the statement read.
During a recent visit to Philadelphia, Pope Francis met privately with survivors of sexual abuse and told them that clergy and bishops would be held accountable for the "sins and crimes" of their abuse.