ROME — Reacting to widespread criticism of the appointment of a bishop in Chile linked to the country’s most notorious abuser priest, the Vatican issued a terse statement on Tuesday insisting the move was “carefully examined” and there were no “objective reasons” to stop it.
“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,” it said.
The statement was issued in the name of the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, a Passionist priest who serves as vice director of the Vatican’s Press Office. The Congregation for Bishops, currently led by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, is the Vatican department that recommends bishops’ appointments to the pope.
Tapped by Pope Francis for the position in Osorno on Jan. 10, Barros has become a deeply controversial figure in Chile because of his ties to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a former mentor who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexual abuse of minors and sentenced to life of “penance and prayer.”
The victims of Karadima have accused Barros and three other bishops of covering up for Karadima while he sexually abused devoted followers during the 1980s and 1990s. They’re currently in a legal battle with the diocese of Santiago de Chile, demanding a public apology from the Chilean Church, for the institution to recognize Karadima’s crimes, and financial compensation of $700,000.
When Barros was installed as the new bishop of Osorno on March 21, his Mass had to be cut short due to protests. The crowd threw objects at the prelate, pushed him, and tried to stop him from entering St. Mathew’s church.
While the bishop was celebrating the Mass, many in attendance screamed “pedophile” and “get out!” at Barros, who had served as Chile’s military chaplain prior to the transfer to Osorno.
The pope’s ambassador in Chile, Italian Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, one of the officials responsible of Barros’ appointment, recently defended the nomination.
“I am calm, doing my duty,” Scapolo said after an opening ceremony for Chile’s ecclesiastical court.
Scapolo insisted that Pope Francis had been made aware of all the charges against Barros and said “we have to accept the decision.”
At the same time, Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati condemned the protests at the installation Mass, saying that every act of violence is reprehensible.
“In a civilized society, differences can be resolved through reason and dialogue,” he said. “In this circumstance, there were people who preferred to act violently, without respect even to the Mass or the faith of those who wanted to express it. It was a scandal.”
Regarding criticism of Barros’ transfer, Ezzati said that there’s no rupture in the Church.
“The Holy Father took an informed and discerned decision,” Ezzati said. “We’re in communion with the Holy Father and, as such, with faith and obedience, we adhere to his orientations and decision.”
Yet Ezzati also appeared to leave open an exit strategy, saying that “a bishop can, eventually, resign.”
Early reaction suggests that advocacy groups for survivors of clerical abuse will be critical of the Vatican statement.
“Bishops and priests worldwide look at Barros’ promotion and now realize that … this pope is no different than any who came before him,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors’ Network of Those Abused by Priests, the largest such group in the United States.
“When push comes to shove,” Clohessy said, “he does what his predecessors have done, time and time and time again – move complicit colleagues up the clerical ladder no matter how egregiously they have helped predators and hurt kids.”