Pope Francis has triggered anger in Chile after accusing victims of a paedophile priest of slander.
Francis said there was “no proof” for their claims that abuse by Father Fernando Karadima had been covered up by another man, Bishop Juan Barros.
“There is not one single piece of proof against him (Bishop Barros). It is all slander. Is that clear?” the Pope said.
One Karadima victim said the Pope’s earlier plea for forgiveness over clerical sex abuse was “empty”.
The Pope made his comments on Thursday before celebrating Mass outside the city of Iquique in northern Chile.
“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” the Pope told journalists.
What is the controversy about?
The Catholic Church suffered a body blow in Chile in 2010 when Father Karadima was publicly accused of molesting several teenaged boys in the capital, Santiago, starting in the 1980s.
in 2011 the Vatican found him guilty of abusing teenage boys and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer”.
He never faced criminal prosecution in Chile as too much time had passed, but the judge who heard victims’ testimony in a year-long investigation described them as “truthful and reliable”.
Mr Cruz says that Bishop Barros was present when Father Karadima – then the bishop’s mentor – kissed and groped him and another boy.
While Bishop Barros has not been accused of abuse, the Pope has been criticised for appointing him bishop of Osorno in 2015. Barros’s ordination ceremony had to be cut short over protests in the cathedral.