Vatican backs controversial bishop accused of abuse cover-up

In a rare move, the Vatican has publicly defended the recent appointment of a controversial bishop accused of covering up child abuse in Chile.

The Vatican press office stated: “Prior to the recent appointment of His Excellency Msgr Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid as bishop of Osorno, Chile, the Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

Bishop Barros’s installation Mass last month was cut short after protests at the cathedral in Osorno.

Chilean clergy sexual abuse survivors accuse Bishop Barros of covering up abuse by Fr Fernando Karadima when Bishop Barros was a priest.

Fr Karadima, a once-renowned spiritual leader, was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors.

He was ordered to retire to a life of penitence and prayer.

Chilean criminal charges against Fr Karadima were dropped because of technicalities, including the expiry of the statute of limitations time period since the crimes.

Survivors say that as a priest, Bishop Barros not only worked to cover up Fr Karadima’s crimes, but witnessed some of them as they happened.

Bishop Barros, who previously served as the head of Chile’s diocese for the military, has denied the claims.

He said he “never had knowledge or imagined the serious abuses that this priest [Karadima] committed with his victim”.

Five members of the Pontificial Commission for the Protection of Minors have expressed “concern and incredulity” at Bishop Barros’s appointment.

Commission member and abuse survivor Marie Collins from Ireland said: “The voice of the survivors is being ignored.”

She added that ” . . . the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection”.

Another commission member and abuse survivor, Peter Saunders, has said he might have to quit the commission unless Pope Francis withdraws the Barros appointment.

Both Pope Francis and commission head Cardinal Sean O’Malley have previously pledged that gaps around bishops’ accountability on abuse cover ups will be filled.


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