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    Maybe I was wrong about Pope Francis

    Pope Francis.
    Andrew Medichini)/Associated Press/file
    Pope Francis.

    It’s hard to admit mistakes.

    I’m lousy at it.

    My wife is much better. Whenever we drive by St. Brigid’s in South Boston, where we were married, she just shakes her head and sighs, as if to say, “Big mistake.”


    I have many friends who voted for Donald Trump. So far, none has been willing to say they made a mistake, despite the mounting evidence that Trump is nothing but an incurious con man, a person devoid of normal human empathy who swans around with sycophants who yes him to death. He doesn’t belong on a reality TV show, much less ensconced in the White House.

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    Maybe the latest revelation by the Associated Press, that the National Enquirer paid one of Trump’s doormen to keep his mouth shut about one of Trump’s myriad moral transgressions, might change their minds. But I doubt it.

    You really know the culture has changed, and not for the better, when the people who run the National Enquirer, so deep in the tank with Trump that they can only see the bottom of that tank, pay people not to talk.

    But in defense of my friends who still love Trump and accept at face value his daily diet of lies, half-truths, and juvenile tweets, it goes against human nature to publicly admit we’re wrong.

    After I wrote what could charitably be called a pair of uncharitable columns about the pope, denouncing and dismissing him after he smeared survivors of clerical abuse in Chile who had credibly accused his protege Bishop Juan Barros of complicity in the serial abuse committed by another priest, I got some interesting feedback.


    Besides the predictable finger-wagging, garment-rending rhetoric from holy rollers who dismissed and denounced me as a self-loathing, lapsed Catholic who had no business criticizing the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church, much less its infallible leader, I got some really interesting, thoughtful responses from priests and nuns.

    The nuns and priests said they understood my distress and especially the distress of those who had survived clerical sexual abuse. They said they were appalled by what the pope said. But they asked me to give the pope a chance. They believe that he is a good man who wants to move the church in the right direction.

    They pointed out that the pope had dispatched the Vatican’s most dogged and reputable investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to investigate the situation in Chile. Scicluna and his colleague, the Rev. Jordan Bertomeu, interviewed dozens of people and recently handed the pope a 2,300-page dossier on their findings.

    And now, having read and digested a book of shame that is almost twice as voluminous as the average Bible, Pope Francis has done what most people in the Vatican — and all of his predecessors — were loath to do: admit he was wrong.

    In a statement that has been called extraordinary and that I would call unprecedented, the pope said he had made “grave errors” when he dismissed as “calumny” the complaints that victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima had made about Barros.


    When Karadima’s victims complained that Barros was made a bishop despite having been complicit in Karadima’s abuse, the pope defended Barros, insisting that none of their claims against Barros had been proven. If not a lie, it certainly was not true.

    In his admission of fault, the pope said he lacked “truthful and balanced information” when judging Barros and the claims against him. But, even as I’m willing to give the pope another chance, that excuse is less than convincing, given that the Vatican itself had in 2011 found credible the victims’ allegations against Karadima, including the charges that Barros was aware of the abuse and did nothing about it.

    Remember: When denouncing the survivors in Chile in January, the pope claimed he had seen no incriminating evidence against Barros. This despite the fact that Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, had given the pope a letter about Barros that O’Malley had received from Marie Collins, the Irishwoman who resigned from the commission the pope had formed to advise him on how to handle the sexual abuse scandal.

    Given that the Vatican isn’t exactly transparent on these matters, we are left to surmise that the pope either didn’t read the letter or didn’t believe its contents.

    O’Malley, who forthrightly pushed back against his boss and defended the survivors in Chile, comes out of this looking very good, and good for him. I’ve whacked him a few times over the years. But I’ve also praised him, especially for his steadfast support of the poor and immigrants, and he deserves credit here. He stood up to the pope and stood up for the survivors of abuse.

    Let’s be charitable and mark this down as a story of redemption, for the pope and others.

    If the pope is willing to admit he was wrong about Barros, I’m willing to say I was wrong about the pope, at least in dismissing him outright, because I was so angry about the way he smeared Karadima’s victims and, by extension, every other victim of clerical abuse.

    It is a human failing to deny someone’s whole self because you don’t like one thing about them.

    I can hear the Trump crowd yapping, “Yeah, but that’s you all over. You hate Trump for one or two things.”

    Um, no. Sorry. I don’t like anything about Trump. Nothing. Nada. So I’m being consistent here. Grant me that much, at least.

    Speaking of which, a column that I wrote seven years ago, when President Barack Obama was seeking an exemption so Bob Mueller could stay on as FBI director beyond his 10-year term, has suddenly, and ironically, become one of the gospels of the far right.

    Trump apologists like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin have seized upon the questions I raised about Mueller’s conduct when he was a federal prosecutor and acting US attorney in Boston back in the 1980s.

    They share my interest in asking why Mueller didn’t do more to out the FBI informant and serial killing gangland leader James “Whitey” Bulger.

    In addition, I pointed out that as a prosecutor and as acting US attorney, Mueller reportedly wrote letters to the parole and pardons board throughout the 1980s opposing clemency for four men with links to the Mafia who were framed for murder by FBI lies. At least that’s what I heard from Mike Albano, a former member of the parole board who had expressed sympathy for the men and was intimidated by FBI agents for doing so. Albano said he saw the letters, but I never did.

    According to the Trump apologists, Mueller’s indifference to Bulger and blind indifference about the Mafia guys who were later proved innocent proves that Mueller can’t be trusted on anything, so anything he comes up with against Trump as special counsel is tainted and should not be used against Trump and anyone else in his administration.

    The truth is, Mueller was no better or no worse than all the feds who went along with the jive story about Whitey Bulger being a crucial source of information to bring down the Mafia, and the FBI’s lies about the four guys who spent most of their lives in prison after being framed for the murder of a small-time hood named Teddy Deegan. There are hundreds of people in the Justice Department who went along with the charade, who are guilty of complicity or just the sheer ignorance that comes with the go-along to get-along culture in law enforcement.

    I suppose Bob Mueller could say he’s sorry, that he was wrong not to be more aggressive in finding out why Whitey Bulger was being protected by the feds when he was out there murdering people with impunity.

    But even if Mueller did, that wouldn’t satisfy the right-wing ideologues who will defend Trump at all cost. These are, after all, the very people that Trump himself said would stick by him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

    Maybe the pope can pray for them, asking the good Lord that the scales that fell from his eyes might fall from theirs.

    And if the pope really wants to win back those of us who remain skeptical about the way he handled the allegations against his protege, he should demand Bishop Barros’s resignation. There’s no place in the Catholic Church for a bishop who stood silent as another priest abused young people.

    If the pope tells Barros he must go, then I will gladly admit I was wrong about Pope Francis. And, in this case, I hope I was.

    Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at