ROME — A five-month-old video released Friday shows Pope Francis accusing critics in Chile of “foolishness” for protesting his appointment of a bishop accused of covering up for the country’s most notorious abuser priest.
In January, Francis tapped Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid as bishop of the small Osorno diocese, a move that sparked nationwide protest because Barros was accused of concealing sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a well-known local priest.
The video shows Jaime Coiro, a former spokesman for the Chilean Bishops Conference and its current assistant secretary, in St. Peter’s Square, where he greets Francis personally and tells him that the Chilean church is “praying and suffering for you.”
With no prompting, Francis tells Coiro that the local Church in Chile has “lost its head,” allowing a group of politicians to judge a bishop “with no proof whatsoever.”
“Think with the head, don’t be led around by the nose by these leftists who are the ones who put this [opposition] together,” the pope is heard saying.
The “leftists” to whom Francis referred are presumably 51 members of Chile’s Congress, most from the Socialist government of President Michelle Bachelet, who signed a petition opposing Barro’s nomination.
The video was released by Chilean website Ahora Noticias (News Now) on Friday, but it was taped in May when Coiro was in Rome with his family.
Although the Vatican has defended the Barros appointment, this is the first time Francis has been seen publicly supporting the embattled bishop.
Speaking to Chilean media after the video appeared, Coiro said he told his superiors at the bishops’ conference about Francis’ comments, but neither he nor they decided to make the pope’s words public. The website did not say how it obtained the video.
Barros is one of four bishops mentored by Karadima, a longtime point of reference for Catholic clergy in Chile. In 2011, the Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of “prayer and penance” after finding him guilty of pedophilia and abuse of his ecclesiastical position.
Three of Karadima’s victims are in a legal battle with the diocese of Santiago de Chile, demanding a public apology from the Chilean Church, for the institution to acknowledge Karadima’s crimes, and financial compensation of $700,000.
After Barros’ appointment, Karadima’s victims revived older accusations against Barros and three other bishops — Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic, and Horacio Valenzuela — that they had covered up for Karadima while he sexually abused followers during the 1980s and 1990s.
Regarding the accusations against those bishops, Francis said in the video that they were “dismissed by the judicial courts.”
“I am the first one to judge and punish someone who’s being accused of these things, but in this case, there’s no proof. On the contrary,” Francis said in the video. “From the heart, I tell you. Let’s see if you help me with this, but don’t be led by the nose by these who’re trying to create a havoc, that are looking for slander,” he said.
After the video was posted, Barros released a short statement, saying, “I have great gratitude for the pope’s support and I pray that we will all work together in peace for the good of Osorno.”