The apologies that Pope Francis now needs to make
Everyone who says they have been sexually abused must be listened to. Such cases as the Barros one should be examined and assessed by independent and properly trained judges. There must be objective criteria and objective judicial processes, and access to justice must be freely available to everyone. The outcome should not depend on the subjective opinions and attitudes of one man, be he Pope or whoever.
What is lacking in the Church is a charter of rights for the laity, a Magna Carta which constrains the monarchical powers of popes and bishops and grants an absolute right to due process to every last Catholic, however humble. Without that, the Catholic Church remains stuck in the early Middle Ages, a feudal tyranny, no matter how benign.
The real culprit in the Barros case is clericalism, and the irony is that the man must guilty of it here, Pope Francis, is also its severest critic in every other context. The slow and obstructive response to the spate of clerical sex abuse scandals in the Vatican shows that clericalism is still the dominant ideology in those quarters. These scandals will not stop until clericalism is eliminated, root and branch. But it will not disappear of its own accord. The Barros case shows once again how powerless the victims of clerical sex abuse can be when there are priests who believe they have privileged access to the truth able to slam the door in their faces.
Meanwhile Pope Francis has a fuller list of apologies to make – not least to members or former members of the Vatican's own child abuse commission – and reprimands to issue, including to several senior Chilean bishops and other prelates, who, by giving him bad advice, compounded his problems.
Good must come out of this shameful affair. Seeing that this happens has become Pope Francis's must important duty from now onwards.