27 March 2015, The Tablet

Abuse experts voice concerns over appointment of Chilean bishop

Members of Pope Francis' safeguarding board have expressed concern over his appointment of a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite accusations that he covered up child abuse by a priest.

Marie Collins, an abuse survivor, said she could not understand how Bishop Juan Barros could have been appointed given the concerns about his handling of allegations regarding Fr Fernando Karadima.

"It goes completely against what he [Francis] has said in the past about those who protect abusers," Collins told the Associated Press. "The voice of the survivors is being ignored, the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored and 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."

Ms Collins is a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was set up in 2014 under the leadership of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

Another member of the commission said she was “very worried” by the appointment. Dr Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and author on child sex abuse, said: "Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to meet with Cardinal O'Malley and other members of the commission to discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Françis."

Ms Collins and Dr Bonnet stressed that they were not speaking on behalf of the commission.

Bishop Barros’ installation as bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno last weekend was cut short amid loud protests.

The Chilean bishops' conference said in a statement that it supported Pope Francis’ decision to name Barros as a bishop. However, senior members of the Chilean hierarchy did not attend the ordination and many were reportedly baffled by the appointment.

The Sacred Heart provincial in Chile, Alex Figueras, said: “It has left us perplexed. It seems to have been a nomination made by the nuncio alone without the backing of the majority of Chilean bishops.”

In February a group of 30 priests and deacons wrote to the nuncio in Chile, Ivo Scapolo, saying they were “troubled” by the nomination of Barros. 

Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of Karadima, told a Chilean radio station that the ordination had been a huge shock.

“He [Barros] was present in the room when I was abused,” he said, alleging that Barros later, as secretary to Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno, destroyed letters from victims.

Bishop Barros did not appear for his first Mass on Sunday. In comments to the press before his ordination he distanced himself from Karadima and denied destroying evidence.

“I am no friend of Fernando Karadima,” he said. “It never crossed my mind that these things were going on.”

In 2011, after an internal investigation, the Vatican found Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors and ordered him to retire to “a life of prayer and penitence” in Santiago. There was no criminal prosecution, a judge finding there was not enough evidence to charge him.

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