Vatican: No 'objective reasons' to preclude appointment of Chilean bishop

by Joshua J. McElwee

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The Vatican has responded to public outcry against Pope Francis' naming of a new bishop in Chile accused of covering up sexual abuse, saying the bishop's candidature was "carefully examined" prior to his appointment but no "objective reasons" were found to preclude it.

Marking a rare reaction to public criticism against a bishop's appointment, the Vatican press office released a 19-word statement Tuesday in three languages regarding Bishop Juan Barros Madrid.

Chilean clergy sexual abuse survivors accuse Barros, who was installed March 21 as head of the diocese of Osorno, Chile, amid protests in the cathedral, of covering up abuse by Fr. Fernando Karadima when Barros was a priest.

Members of Francis' Vatican commission on clergy sex abuse have also criticized the appointment, saying in NCR interviews last week they are concerned and surprised at the pope's decision.

The Vatican's statement Tuesday, made by Holy See Press Office Vice Director Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini, does not address any specific criticisms.

"The Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate's candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment," reads the entire statement, released in Italian, English and Spanish.

Karadima, a once-renowned spiritual leader and key Chilean church figure, was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors. Survivors say that as a priest, Barros not only worked to cover up Karadima's crimes, but witnessed some of them as they happened.

The bishop, who previously served as the head of Chile's diocese for the military, has denied the claims, saying in a statement he "never had knowledge or imagined the serious abuses that this priest [Karadima] committed with his victim."

The members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors said last week they were so concerned about the appointment that several of them were considering coming to Rome in an attempt to meet personally with the pope on the matter.

"We are all very disturbed by what is going on in Chile," said Peter Saunders, a clergy abuse survivor who serves on the commission and is the founder of the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

Marie Collins, another member of the Vatican sexual abuse commission who is also a survivor, called on Francis to remove Barros.

"As a survivor, I'm very surprised at the appointment in Chile because it seems to go against ... what the Holy Father has been saying about not wanting anyone in positions of trust in the church who don't have an absolutely 100 percent record of child protection," said Collins, an Irishwoman.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the April 10-23, 2015 print issue under the headline: Vatican defends of Chilean bishop appointment.

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