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Bishop Barros – the story so far

Bishop Juan Barros attends his first Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew in Osorno with protestors gathered in the pews (CNS)

Pope Francis’s appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to head the small diocese of Osorno, Chile encountered opposition when it was announced three years ago and has contributed to a credibility crisis for the Chilean Catholic Church in the time since.

Bishop Barros was a protege of Fr Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors. Some of the victims allege that Barros witnessed the abuse, placing him at the scene when Fr Karadima kissed and fondled minors. Bishop Barros has denied knowing of the abuse or covering up for Fr Karadima.

Pope Francis created an uproar while visiting Chile in January, when he called the accusations against Bishop Barros “slander.” The Pope further insisted he never knew that any of Fr Karadima’s victims had come forward. The Associated Press reported Monday that Pope Francis received an eight-page letter in April 2015 that laid out in detail why abuse victim Juan Carlos Cruz thought Bishop Barros was unfit to lead a diocese.

Some key dates in the Barros affair:


January 10, 2015

Pope names Bishop Barros, then Chile’s military bishop, as Bishop of Osorno, over the objections of some members of the Chilean bishops’ conference. They were concerned about the fallout from the Fr Karadima affair.


January 31, 2015

Pope Francis acknowledged the bishops’ concerns in a letter, which the AP obtained last month. The letter revealed a plan to have Bishop Barros and two other Fr Karadima-trained bishops resign and take yearlong sabbaticals, but Pope Francis wrote that it fell apart because the nuncio revealed it. The Pope later acknowledged that he had blocked the plan himself because there was no “evidence” Bishop Barros was guilty of any cover-up.


February 2015

Fifty Chilean lawmakers and priests, deacons and more than 1,000 laity in the Osorno diocese sign petitions protesting Bishop Barros’ appointment and urging Pope Francis revoke it.


February 3, 2015

Juan Carlos Cruz writes an eight-page letter to the Vatican’s ambassador in Santiago, Monsignor Ivo Scapolo, accusing Bishop Barros of watching the sex abuse he experienced and doing nothing to stop it. The letter, which Cruz said should be considered a formal complaint, would form the basis of a subsequent letter to the Pope.


March 21, 2015

The Mass installing Barros as bishop of Osorno is marred by violent protests. Black-clad demonstrators storm the church with signs that read, “No to Karadima’s accomplice.” Ten days later, the Vatican publicly defends Bishop Barros, saying it “carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”


April 12, 2015

Four members of the Pope’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors fly to Rome to meet with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Pope Francis’s top adviser, to raise concerns about Barros’ suitability to run a diocese. The commissioners cite the victim testimony that Barros witnessed and ignored abuse. Member Marie Collins hands Cruz’s letter to Cardinal O’Malley, who would go on to tell Collins and Cruz he delivered it to the Pope and relayed their concerns.


May 15, 2015

Pope Francis is filmed in St Peter’s Square telling the spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference that the Chilean Church had become too politicised and the opposition to Bishop Barros was coming from “leftists.” Pope Francis says: “Osorno suffers, yes, from foolishness, because they don’t open their heart to what God says and they let themselves guided by the nonsense all those people say.”


January 15, 2018

Pope Francis arrives in Chile to protests that are unprecedented for a papal visit. During his first public remarks, he apologises for the “irreparable damage” suffered by all victims of sexual abuse. He meets with two survivors and weeps with them.


January 18, 2018

While visiting the northern city of Iquique, Pope Francis is asked by a Chilean journalist about Bishop Barros and says: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”


January 20, 2018

Cardinal O’Malley publicly rebukes the Pope, saying his words in Iquique “were a source of great pain” for abuse survivors. “Words that convey the message ‘if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed’ abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile,” Cardinal O’Malley said.


January 21, 2018

Pope Francis partially apologises, saying he shouldn’t have used the word “proof” but rather “evidence.” During an in-flight news conference, he repeats that accusations against Bishop Barros are “slander” and denies any victims had come forward accusing Bishop Barros of covering up for Fr Karadima. “I’m convinced he’s innocent.”


February 5, 2018

The AP reports the contents of Cruz’s letter, which contradict the Pope’s claim about no victims coming forward. Cruz wrote: “Holy Father, it’s bad enough that we suffered such tremendous pain and anguish from the sexual and psychological abuse, but the terrible mistreatment we received from our pastors is almost worse.”