Santiago, Chile, Jan 16, 2018 / 11:30 am
As Pope Francis began his visit to Chile, a Vatican spokesman has voiced "maximum respect" for the rights of protesters continuing their three-year opposition to a bishop's appointment, but the Pope will not meet with them.
The subject of the protests, Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, has repeated explanations that he did not know his longtime friend Father Fernando Karadima was a sexual abuser, despite the claims of protesters alleging that Barros helped cover up Karadima's abuse.
"I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims," Bishop Barros told the Associated Press. "I have never approved of nor participated in such serious dishonest acts and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things."
In January 2015 the Pope named Bishop Barros to head the Diocese of Osorno in southern Chile. The appointment drew objections and a call for his resignation from several priests. Dozens of protesters, including non-Catholics, attempted to disrupt his March 21, 2015 installation Mass at the Osorno cathedral.
Days later, Archbishop Fernando Chomali Garib of Concepcion said that Pope Francis had told him that there was "no objective reason at all" that the bishop should not be installed. The pontiff had been kept up-to-date on the situation.
On March 31, 2015, the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops also released a statement, saying that the office had "carefully examined the prelate's candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment."
The then-apostolic nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, said that all information about Barros was passed on to Pope Francis. Most of the people in the church were not protesters, but "people who love their bishop," the nuncio said.
Decades previously, Bishop Barros had been a close friend to Father Fernando Karadima, an influential Santiago-area priest who fostered the vocations of about 40 priests, including Barros.
When reports of sexual abuse and other scandal surrounding Karadima surfaced, Bishop Barros was among the prelates who did not believe the accusations. A civil lawsuit against the priest was dismissed on the grounds that his alleged behavior was beyond the statute of limitations.
In February 2011, however, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith finished its investigation with the conclusion that the priest was guilty. At the age of 84, Karadima was sent to a life of solitude and prayer.
Bishop Barros said he had already been distancing himself from the priest before allegations surfaced, because he had become "ill-tempered."
"The pain of the victims hurts me enormously, I pray for those that carry this pain with them today," he said in a 2015 letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Osorno ahead of his installation.
On May 6, 2015, five months after Barros was appointed to lead the Diocese of Osorno, Deacon Jaime Coiro, general secretary of the Chilean episcopal conference, told Pope Francis that the Church in Osorno "is praying and suffering for you."
"Osorno suffers, yes," Pope Francis said, "for silliness."