Pope Francis today defended the controversial Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, when asked by Chilean journalists on arrival at Iquique, in the north of Chile, whether he supported the bishop.
“The day they bring me proof against the bishop, then I will speak. There is not a single proof against him. This calumny! Is that clear?” Francis stated.
Many in Chile opposed Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Barros as bishop of Osorno and still do because he is known to have belonged to the inner circle of the charismatic Chilean priest, the Rev. Fernado Karadima, against whom accusations of child abuse were leveled in 2010. State prosecutors could not intervene against Father Karadima then because of the statute of limitations, but a church inquiry did. Following its findings, he was removed from the ministry at the age of 80 and directed to a life of prayer and penance.
Many in Chile opposed Francis’ appointment of Msgr. Barros as bishop because he is known to have belonged to the inner circle of a priest accused of abuse.
Msgr. Barros was close to him and served as his secretary for a number of years, and very many people here feel he covered up Father Karadima’s abuse, but the bishop denies ever knowing anything about it. He repeated his denial in recent days when asked by the Chilean media and denounced the allegations as “calumny.” Many find it difficult to believe that he knew nothing.
There have been denunciations against Bishop Barros for a cover-up, with some claiming that he was present when some of the abuse happened. But he flatly denies the charges, and the church inquiry that was carried out concluded that, while there are many allegations, there are no hard facts that could stand up in a court to substantiate such charges.
Because Father Karadima was a high-profile priest, known throughout the country, the accusations and finding that he abused children shocked the nation.
Juan Carlos Cruz has publicly accused Father Karadima of abusing him and alleges that Bishop Barros was present when this happened, though the bishop categorically denies it.
On hearing what the pope said today, Mr. Cruz in a tweet commented, “How could one take a photo or a selfie while Karadima abused me and others with Barros standing at his side?” He said the pope’s words about reparation to the victims are meaningless.
There were many protests against Francis’ appointment of Bishop Barros, especially at the time of his installment. There was an international conference on the day the pope arrived that also highlighted accusations against the bishop. There have been some small protests during the visit but nothing significant.
There have been ongoing calls for the pope to remove Bishop Barros. Francis has ordered investigations but, as he made clear this morning, no one has come up with hard evidence against the bishop. And unless such proof presented to the pope, the bishop will remain in charge of the Diocese of Osorno.