Bishop Juan Barros accused of covering up crimes of paedophile priest
Critics charge Pope Francis with going back on pledge to curb church abuse
The Vatican has issued a rare statement of support for a bishop in Chile who has been accused by abuse victims of covering up for a notorious paedophile priest, in a case that is sure to infuriate critics who say Pope Francis is straying from his commitment to ending the church’s legacy of abuse.
amid a growing controversy over Bishop Juan Barros, the Holy See confirmed on Tuesday that the congregation for bishops had vetted Barros and found no “objective reason” to stop his appointment to the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno.
Barros has been accused by victims of turning a blind eye to abuse that was committed against them by Barros’s former mentor, Reverend Fernando Karadima, a priest who the Vatican found guilty of molestation in 2011.
Karadima is now living a cloistered life of “penitence and prayer” in a convent in Chile.
In some cases, Karadima’s victims have alleged that Barros not only helped to cover up the crimes decades ago, but that he had observed the abuse.
Barros has denied the allegations, and said that he did not know about the abuse until it was reported by newspapers in 2010.
The Holy See’s statement will be seen as an unequivocal show of support for Barros at a time when some members of the pope’s committee to address church abuse of minors – and the systematic cover-up of such crimes – have said they wanted the bishop removed from the diocese.
Marie Collins, an abuse survivor and a member of the committee, told the Associated Press that the Vatican was ignoring the safety of children in Osorno by leaving them in the hands of a bishop “about whom there are grave concerns”.
Other commission members said before the statement was released that they were planning an emergency meeting with Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston who heads the sex abuse committee, to air their concerns.
The Vatican’s statement is also likely to rile up clergy in Chile that have expressed their own opposition to Barros’s appointment.
About 30 priests from the Chilean diocese, more than 1,300 church members, and 51 out of 120 members of Chile’s parliament have sent letters to the pope asking him to reverse his decision.
Barros’s installation in Osorno earlier this month was mostly boycotted by the diocese’s priests, a rare show of rebellion in the otherwise devoutly Catholic country.
The Vatican did not immediately respond to questions about how it had vetted Barros, including whether it interviewed any victims who alleged that he observed their abuse.