Vatican City - Several members of Pope Francis' sex abuse advisory board are expressing concern and incredulity over his decision to appoint a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite allegations that he covered up for Chile's most notorious paedophile.
In interviews and emails with The Associated Press, the experts have questioned Francis' pledge to hold bishops accountable and keep children safe, given the record of Bishop Juan Barros in the case of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
The five commission members spoke to the AP in their personal and professional capacity and stressed that they were not speaking on behalf of the commission, which Francis formed in late 2013 and named Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley to head.
“I am very worried,” said commission member Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and author on child sex abuse. “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.”
Another commission member, Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, said she couldn't understand how Barros could have been appointed given the concerns about his behaviour.
“It goes completely against what he (Francis) has said in the past about those who protect abusers,” Collins told AP. “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.”
Barros was installed as bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno last weekend amid unprecedented opposition - and scuffles inside the cathedral - by protesters who say he is unfit to lead. The demonstrators point to his close association with Karadima, a charismatic and popular priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Three of Karadima's victims told the AP this month that Barros witnessed the abuse decades ago at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago, the Chilean capital, and that he did nothing. They accused Barros of destroying a letter detailing allegations against Karadima that was sent to the then-bishop in 1982.
Barros had long refused to comment publicly on the allegations, but on the eve of his installation insisted he didn't know about any abuse until he read about the allegations in 2010 news reports.
Barros' January appointment sparked unprecedented opposition in a country that is slowly coming to grips with the church sex abuse crisis that has afflicted the United States, Europe and Australia in particular: More than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with some 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile's 120 members of Parliament, sent letters to Francis in February urging him to rescind the appointment.
To no avail. On the eve of the March 21 installation, the Vatican embassy in Chile issued a statement expressing its full “confidence and support” in Barros and urging the church in Chile to show a spirit of “faith as well as communion” by accepting Barros as the new Osorno bishop.
His installation, however, was a scene of utter chaos, with protesters entering the cathedral, pushing and shoving and nearly coming to blows as Barros tried to walk down the aisle.