Pope Francis has hit the headlines once again after it was reported that he compared gossipping nuns to terrorists. Speaking to a crowd the South American nation of Peru Sunday, the pontiff got a massive laugh when he made the remark – but his face remained straight.
“Do you know what a nun who gossips is?” the pope asked as he spoke to 500 cloistered nuns at the historic Church of the Nazarenas. “A terrorist,” he answered. “Because gossip is like a bomb. One throws it, it causes destruction and one calmly walks away.”
The Pope hammered his point home, adding, “No terrorist sisters! The best remedy is to bite your tongue. Don’t gossip in the convent because that will inspire the devil.”
Francis was clearly in a jokey mood. At the start of his address, Francis quipped: “Seeing you all here, an unkind thought comes to my mind — that you took advantage [of me] to get out of the convent a bit to take a stroll,” as reported by Reuters.
Apparently attempting to make a joke that would be laughed at by the locals, Francis then asserted that gossiping nuns were worse “than the terrorists of Ayacucho.”
Many deemed this insensitive considering the complex political history in the nation of Peru. Ayacucho was at the very epicenter of the Maoist-inspired Shining Path uprising that fought the Peruvian state in a conflict that left 69,000 people massacred or missing in the 1980s and 1990s.
But others criticized Francis’ remarks, saying that he should be quicker to label abusive priests as “terrorists.” He upset many abuse victims when, while in Chile, he suggested that those accusing certain priests of wrongdoing are “slanderous.”
The Pope said that until he sees clear proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny,” as reported by The Guardian.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I’ll speak,” he said. “There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”
Barros was present at many of the gatherings across the week.
These comments came despite a Chilean judge finding the victims to be credible. The Judge highlighted that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, there was plenty of proof in relation to his crimes.
“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’s most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
Many find Francis’ remarks over the abuse confusing, not least because he is constantly campaigning on on issues of social justice.
“That is the enigma of Pope Francis,” Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org said Sunday, as reported by TIME. “He is so bold and compassionate on many issues but he is an old school defensive bishop when it comes to the sex abuse crisis.”
The Pope’s trip to South America has been shrouded in controversy. As the pontiff prepared to land in Chile, vandals fire-bombed three separate churches in the capital of Santiago, warning in a leaflet that “the next bombs will be in your cassock.”
While he enjoyed some support during his parade through the streets of Santiago, other barked out calls for justice for abuse victims.
“Love live the pope!” some yelled. But others bellowed, “Stop the abuse, Francis!”
“You can so you must.”
“The pope’s visit in Chile turned into the worst of his five years as pontiff,” declaraed a headline in Clarin, a major newspaper in Francis’ native country of Argentina.
“The principal legacy of this trip will be negative because of Francis’ support of Barros,” said German Silva, a political scientist at the Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Francis is a regular tweeter, though he appears to limit his political messages on the micro-blogging site, choosing instead to inspire followers of Jesus to keep going in their faith.
Listening to religious teaching or learning a doctrine is not enough. What we want is to live as Jesus lived.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) January 17, 2018