Central figure in Chile’s priest abuse scandal ousted by Pope
By Nicole Winfield
June 11, 2018
|In this file picture taken on January 17, 2018, the bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros (R), takes part in an open-air mass celebrated by Pope Francis (L) at Maquehue airport in Temuco, 800 km south of Santiago, on January 17, 2018. Pope Francis accepted on June 11, 2018 the resignation of three Chilean bishops including that of controversial Juan Barros following a child sex abuse scandal in Chile which has come to haunt his papacy. Several members of the Chilean church hierarchy are accused by victims of ignoring and covering up child abuse by Chilean paedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.|
Photo by Claudio Reyes
Pope Francis accepted the resignations Monday of the bishop at the center of Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal and two other priests, beginning a purge of the Catholic Church in a country where it had been damaged by an avalanche of abuse and cover-up accusations.
A Vatican statement said Francis had accepted the resignations of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt. Francis named a temporary leader for each diocese.
Barros, 61, has been at the center of Chile’s growing scandal ever since Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno in 2015 over the objections of the local faithful, his own sex abuse prevention advisers and some of Chile’s other bishops. They questioned Barros’ suitability to lead given he had been a top lieutenant of Chile’s most notorious predator priest and had been accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.
Barros denied the charge, but he joined 30 of Chile’s other active bishops in offering their resignations to Francis at an extraordinary Vatican summit last month. Francis summoned Chile’s church leaders to Rome after realizing he had made “grave errors in judgment” about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during a visit to Chile in January.
Barros’ removal, which had been expected, was praised by abuse survivors and Catholics in Osorno. Some said more housecleaning now is needed to heal the devastation wrought by the scandal.
“A new day has begun in Chile’s Catholic Church!” tweeted Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor who denounced Barros for years and pressed the Vatican to take action.
The other two bishops whose resignations were accepted had submitted them prior to the pope’s summit after having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. But victims accused both of having botched cases in the past.
Francis realized he had misjudged the Chilean situation after meeting with Cruz and reading a 2,300-page report compiled by two leading Vatican investigators about the depth of Chile’s scandal.
The investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, are heading back to Chile on Tuesday to begin what the Vatican has said is a “healing” mission to Osorno.
Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who fiercely opposed Barros, said Francis’ acceptance of the resignation signaled “the end of the damage” that the pope himself had inflicted on the diocese by appointing Barros in the first place. Claret said Barros’ exit was the “minimum condition” to begin a dialogue with the Vatican to try to rebuild peace in the diocese.