Pope knew choice of Chilean bishop would cause furor on abuse issue, confidential letter reveals
January 12, 2018
Pope Francis was fully aware of a Chilean bishop’s contacts with a notorious priest-abuser when he appointed the bishop to head a Chilean diocese in 2014, the Associated Press has revealed.
In January 2015, the Pope provoked outcries when he named Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid to head the Osorno diocese. Bishop Barros had been a close friend of Father Fernando Karadima, a priest convicted on multiple charges of sexual abuse. As public protests against the Barros appointment arose, a group of Chilean bishops wrote to the Pope, urging him to reconsider his choice.
In a January 31, 2015 reply to the Chilean prelates—which has been obtained by the Associated Press—the Pope acknowledged that he was aware of the controversy that would surround the appointment. Going further, the Pontiff told the bishops that during the previous year, his apostolic nuncio in Chile had encouraged Bishop Barros to resign from his duties as bishop for the country’s armed forces, and to take a leave of absence, in order to ease the protests caused by the bishop’s friendship with Karadima.
However Bishop Barros—who has consistently said that he was completely unaware of Karadima’s misconduct— did not resign. Instead he was given the new diocesan assignment in Osorno, in spite of angry public protests. The bishop now says that he was not aware of the Pope’s letter to his fellow bishops.
At the time of the appointment in Osorno, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis was fully briefed on the facts regarding the ties between Bishops Barros and Father Karadima, and was persuaded that the bishop was innocent. The Pontiff said in 2015 that the complaints against Bishop Barros were “unfounded allegations of the leftists,” and expressed regret that public opinion had been “carried away by the garbage everybody says.”
The revelation that recognized the furor that his appointment was likely to cause will pose a serious public-relations problem as the Pontiff prepares to visit Chile next week.
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