Vatican Defends Appointment of Chilean Bishop Accused of Sex-abuse Cover-up

By Abby Ohlheiser
Washington Post
March 31, 2015

The Rev. Juan Barros Madrid, center, at his March 21 ordination ceremony as bishop in Chile. (Mario Mendoza Cabrera/AP)

The Vatican defended the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid on Tuesday, after accusations that the bishop helped cover up sex abuse prompted criticism of the appointment by Pope Francis.

As the National Catholic Reporter notes, the brief, 19-word statement represents a rare comment from the Vatican on an appointment. “The Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate’s candidature,” the statement from Holy See Press Office Vice Director Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini reads, “and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

The criticism of Barros centers on long-standing allegations that he helped to cover up the sex abuse of his then-superior, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican in 2011 found guilty of sexually abusing minors. Karadima, 84, is now living cloistered in “penitence and prayer.”

Barros has denied the allegations, as the NCR reported, and has said he “never had knowledge or imagined the serious abuses that this priest [Karadima] committed with his victim.”

As reported by the Associated Press, the allegations include statements from three of Karadima’s victims saying that Barros personally witnessed their abuse and did not act to stop it. Barros is also alleged to have destroyed a letter bound for their bishop that laid out the accusations against his mentor.

Barros was installed earlier this month, a decision that prompted protests in the cathedral of his Chilean diocese, as well as a boycott from most of the deacons and priests in the diocese and statements of concern from several members of the pope’s sex-abuse advisory board.

In an interview last week with The Washington Post, abuse survivor Marie Collins — who was appointed to the commission created to advise the Vatican on possible reforms — said the appointment of Barros “seems contrary to what the Holy Father has said in the past” about the church’s response to the sex-abuse scandal. “I believe he’s sincere on child protection,” she said. “I find it difficult to understand the appointment.”

Some members of the commission are considering a trip to Rome to try to speak to Francis personally about the appointment.

For many, the appointment of Barros stood in contrast to the pope’s acceptance of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien earlier this month. O’Brien, formerly a powerful member of the Catholic Church’s presence in the United Kingdom, was accused of making sexual advances toward several priests in the past.

Although Francis has taken steps to address the international sex-abuse crisis facing the church, some victims’ groups say the Vatican isn’t doing enough.

David Clohessy, the director of SNAP, a group that advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse, said in a statement that Francis is “far more PR savvy than most” previous leaders of the Catholic Church on the issue of the sex-abuse scandal. “He’s masterful at using symbols and gestures,” Clohessy said. “He says more of the right things.” But Clohessy believes Barros’s appointment demonstrates that Francis “is no different than any who came before him.”








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