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News > Latin America

Chile: Catholics Demand Pope Fire Bishop Complicit in Sex Abuse

  • Demonstrators protest in Chile outside a cathedral against Juan Barros during his ordination as bishop of Osorno, March 21, 2015.

    Demonstrators protest in Chile outside a cathedral against Juan Barros during his ordination as bishop of Osorno, March 21, 2015. | Photo: EFE

Published 7 February 2016

The appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 sparked controversy as the cleric is accused of protecting a notorious child-abusing priest.

Outraged Chilean Catholics are asking Pope Francis to fire a controversial bishop accused of shielding a pedophile priest.

Letters addressed to Pope Francis were delivered Sunday by Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a teenager, and Peter Saunders, a British member of an advisory committee to the pope on sexual abuse in the church. The pair left the letters with a cardinal to be delivered to the Pope.

Catholics in Chile wrote to the Holy See to demand that Juan Barros, controversially appointed bishop of Osorno, be removed from his post. Hundreds outraged by the appointment protested in southern Chile last year to try to block Barros from being ordained, but Pope Francis dismissed the outcry, claiming the accusations against Barros had been invented by a bunch of “leftists.”

"People of Osorno protest again against Juan Barros on the anniversary of the former bishop"

"The devastation that your decision has caused us, Pope Francis, cannot withstand any more silence or omission," said one of the letters signed by Osorno Catholics delivered to the Vatican, according to Reuters.

Barros is accused of protecting Father Fernando Karadima, a priest said to be one of the worst sexual predators and abusers of young boys within the country’s clergy. Cruz, who delivered the letters, says he was sexually abused by Karadima when he was 16.

Karadima denies the accusations and has never been prosecuted. The Vatican handed down a sentence of "a life of prayer and penitence" for abusing children for some 35 years beginning as early as the 1950s.

Although many Catholics and victims of abuse accuse Barros of protecting Karadima when he was aware that the priest was a pedophile and child molester, Barros claims he was never privy to any acts of abuse.

“We can never give up when it comes to protecting children and this is not the message being sent by Pope Francis appointing Bishop Barros to Osorno,” said Cruz in a statement included with the letters. “This bishop witnessed my own abuse and that of many other boys over a period of 35 years.”

The letters come as the latest attempt to urge the Vatican to change its ways and prioritize justice and dignity for victims over impunity for abusers in the name of upholding the Catholic Church’s image. In 2014, Pope Francis sent a letter to bishops and other high-ranking clerics calling for zero-tolerance policy towards sexual abusers and those who cover up pedophilia and abuse within the clergy.

But many have criticized the Vatican stance as superficial, pointing to controversial appointments, such as Barros, as proof that the Pope has not taken seriously enough the task of keeping clerics complicit child abuse out of the highest ranks of the Catholic Church.

When Barros was appointed last year, over 1,000 people wrote to Pope Francis urging him to reconsider the decision.

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