Pope under pressure over Chilean bishop
Pope Francis’s stated policy of ‘zero tolerance’ of abuse in the Catholic Church is being sorely tested following his appointment of Juan Barros, above, to the post of bishop of Osorno in southern Chile.
Politicians and some church leaders in the country, according to this report, have demanded the resignation of Barros following allegations that he helped cover up – and at times participated in – abuse against minors by his longtime mentor, a priest called Fernando Karadima.
The case has consequences far beyond Chile, given Pope Francis’s repeated promises to confront the abuse scandals. Victims’ rights activists are calling for the pontiff’s intervention in the case following an outcry by parishioners in the region.
So far, however, Barros appears to have the full weight of the Vatican behind him.
Priests in Osorno say the Pope’s choice has left them “confused and irritated”.
In an editorial entitled “Bishop Juan Barros Should Resign”, Father Alex Vigueras, a priest in the congregation of the Sacred Hearts, said the appointment:
Is not attuned with the zero tolerance [policy on paedophilia] that is trying to be installed in the church. It is hard for us to believe that [Pope Francis] would have confirmed this nomination had he had all the background information on the table.
Opposition to Barros from Chile’s large and devout Catholic community is based on a number of allegations by victims who named him as a key figure in cases of sexual abuse by Karadima. They claim that he not only helped cover up the crimes, but in some instances observed the abuse.
Karadima, above, was found guilty of molestation by the Vatican in 2011 and is now living a cloistered life of solitude in “penitence and prayer” in a convent in Chile. Chilean authorities dropped criminal charges against the priest in 2011 because the statute of limitations had expired.
Juan Carlos Cruz told CNN Chile:
This man [Barros] was standing next to us when we were abused. Juan Barros is a bad man for many reasons. I find it incredible that he is taking over a diocese like Osorno.
A second victim, James Hamilton, has also testified that he saw Barros in the room while the abuse took place.
This is who gets named to be bishop of Osorno? For those of us who know the truth of this story – and apparently the Vatican also know – this it is unbelievable.
The Chilean people won’t take this any more, it is denigrating to the country, to our international image, to our children … We can’t tolerate this [paedophilia] not by family members, not by our bishops. This needs to stop.
Barros has denied any wrongdoing in a statement issued on Monday:
I never had knowledge or imagined the serious abuses that this priest [Fernando Karadima] committed with his victim. I have not approved or participated in these very serious and dishonest acts … I reiterate together with the entire church that there is no room in the priesthood for those who commit these abuses.
Peter Saunders, a British abuse survivor who sits on a new papal commission to protect children, credits Pope Francis for being vocal about the abuse scandals. But he said that proof of the church’s seriousness in tackling the problem will be revealed by its action – or inaction – in cases like the one in Chile.
Saunders has also been critical of the church’s handling of another case in Missouri, where Bishop Robert Finn, above, has remained in power even after he was convicted of failing to report clerical child sex abuse.
If we don’t see real change, if we don’t see the likes of Bishop Finn removed immediately and this case in Chile being resolved, then the committee will be a pointless exercise.
The Vatican declined to comment.
Chilean politicians have entered the fray, with 51 members of Congress signing a petition that opposed Barros’s nomination.
Said Fidel Espinoza, a Chilean congressman who personally delivered the letter to the Vatican and was promised it would be brought to Pope Francis’s attention.
We believe the Pope has the powers to remedy this situation.
Espinoza warned of the “permanent tension” generated by “a bishop who is not beloved” by his parish.
Thirty priests from the Osorno area in the south of Chile also signed a letter expressing their opposition to Barros.
[We have] a legitimate right to be led by a bishop with integrity.
Peter Kliegel, a reverend and organiser of the protest letter, told church leaders that “the unity of the church” was threatened by the naming of a bishop:
Whose moral life has been publicly questioned.
But Vatican officials in Chile are standing by Barros – for now. Ricardo Ezzati, the Archbishop in Chile, has expressed his full support for Barros and said that:
The bishops are going to be brothers, as we always have, supporting what we have to support.
Outside the church where the controversial bishop is set to take the reins of power on Saturday, protesters have been holding candlelight vigils and promising to prohibit Barros from entering.
Barros predicted that the controversy would blow over.
I understand those who have felt sadness or bothered, but I have confidence that knowing one another and working together for the Osorno community we can all grow with united serenity in our so happy evangelical tasks.
Hat tip: Ivan Bailey