ROME — Laypeople in Chile opposed to Pope Francis’ appointment of a bishop with ties to the country’s most notorious abuser priest have occupied the local cathedral, demanding the bishop’s resignation.
The demonstration came on Saturday, the anniversary of the day Pope Francis announced the appointment one year ago.
“We’re Catholics who oppose the pastoral exercise of Bishop [Juan de la Cruz] Barros,” the group, which calls itself the “Lay Men and Women of Osorno,” write in a statement issued Saturday night.
Osorno is a small diocese in southern Chile with a Catholic population of roughly 125,000. Francis appointed Barros its bishop in January 2015.
On Saturday, Osorno’s Cathedral of St. Matthew was occupied by some 30 people carrying signs demanding Barros’s resignation. On the same day, Pope Francis welcomed the top three representatives of the Chilean Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican, presumably, in part, to discuss the controversy around Barros.
The choice of Barros a year ago sparked nationwide protest, since he’s been accused of concealing sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a well-known local priest with strong ties to the country’s elite. In 2011, Karadima was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of “penance and prayer” after being found guilty of pedophilia and abuse of his ecclesiastical position.
Victims of Karadima have accused Barros and three other Chilean bishops — Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic, and Horacio Valenzuela — of covering up for Karadima while he sexually abused followers during the 1980s and 1990s.
The four bishops have defended their mentor and tried to discredit the victims, even after the Vatican determined the accusations had merit. However, there’s been no confirmation of any formal charges against the bishops for concealing crimes, either under the Church’s canon law or Chilean civil law.
In their statement, the protesters described their takeover of the cathedral as a “liturgical occupation.”
They accused the papal ambassador in Chile, Italian Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, and the local hierarchy of “negotiating” away their diocese, and requested a meeting to have an “open, fraternal, and power-free” dialogue.
The solution to this “grave crisis,” they wrote, will come only with Barros’s resignation.
“Because we’re a part of the people of God, despite the suffering caused by not being heard and [being] abandoned, we manifest yet again our option for dialogue,” they wrote.
Barros was installed in the diocese last March, in a ceremony that had to be cut short because of protests. 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.