Vatican abuse commission members: O'Malley passing concerns to Francis

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Members of the Vatican commission on clergy sexual abuse say an unscheduled meeting in Rome Sunday with Cardinal Sean O'Malley made them feel heard in their concerns about the appointment of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse.

O'Malley, the commission members said, promised to pass on those concerns about Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to Pope Francis in coming days.

"The meeting went very well and the cardinal is going to take our concerns to the Holy Father," Marie Collins, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told NCR early Monday morning.

"It was a very, very successful meeting, really, from our point of view," she said.

Collins was one of four members of the Vatican commission that came to Rome Sunday for the visit, held at the Sanctae Martae hotel where Francis lives.

Barros was installed as the bishop of Osorno, Chile last month amid protests in the cathedral. Chilean survivors accuse him of covering up abuse by Fr. Fernando Karadima.

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

O'Malley is the president of the Vatican commission and is also a member of the Council of Cardinals, the group of prelates advising Francis on how to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. He is in Rome this week for a Monday-Wednesday meeting of the Council.

Asked if the commission members felt listened to when they shared their concerns with O'Malley Sunday, Collins replied: "Yes, absolutely." She repeated: Yes, absolutely."

"It goes to the Holy Father and then we will wait and see what the outcome of that is," Collins continued. "We're not jumping ahead any further than that."

Collins is one of 17 members of the Vatican abuse commission, which the Vatican announced in December 2013 but met for the first time in its entirety in Rome in February.

Also taking part in the meeting with O'Malley were three other members of the Vatican commission, who are all part of a subcommittee of the commission: Peter Saunders, Catherine Bonnet, and Sheila Hollins.

A statement issued late Sunday in the name of the subcommittee said the members were able "to discuss their concerns about the appointment of Bishop Barros in Chile."

"Although we are not charged with dealing with individual cases, the protection of minors is our primary concern," reads that statement, issued by Commission secretary Msgr. Robert Oliver.

"The process of appointing bishops who are committed to, and have an understanding of child protection is of paramount importance," it continues.

"In the light of the fact that sexual abuse is so common, the ability of a bishop to enact effective policies, and to carefully monitor compliance is essential," says the statement. "Cardinal O'Malley agreed to present the concerns of the subcommittee to the Holy Father."

Before Sunday's meeting, Saunders told NCR that Barros "should not be in charge of a diocese where he will be responsible for young people. It's an outrage."

"I personally think that that man should be removed as a bishop because he has a very, very dubious history -- corroborated by more than one person," said Saunders, who is also the founder of the U.K.-based National Association for People Abused in Childhood.

"This is a well-known scenario of intimidation and abuse that went on for a long time," he continued. "And that man is still in a position of power, and it shouldn't be the case."

Marking a rare reaction to public criticism against a bishop's appointment, the Vatican press office released a 19-word statement March 31 in three languages defending Barros' appointment.

"The Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate's candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment," read that statement, made in the name of press office vice director Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini.

Said Saunders on Friday: "The pope cannot say one thing and then do another. None of us can."

"If he says bishops must be accountable and will be held to account, if there is zero tolerance of anybody within the ranks of the church who is abusing, then they are out -- then he has to stick to that," he continued.

"I need an explanation as to why these things are not happening. Otherwise, I cannot see any point of me being on the commission," Saunders said. "I'm pretty sure that others may feel the same."

[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 24-May 7, 2015 print issue under the headline: O'Malley meeting a success, says commission member.

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