Residents of the quaint southern Chilean town of Osorno are primed to resume protests against Pope Francis' visit to the South American country next week.
Their discontent stems from the pontiff's appointment of Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused of protecting an alleged pedophile in 2015.
Residents of Osorno said Vatican officials turned down their requests to hold a meeting with the Pope, according to Reuters. In response, they plan to hold demonstrations against his visit to the country, which is scheduled for Jan. 15-18.
“We believe the victims of sexual abuse have been marginalized (by the Church),” said Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for Osorno residents. “It’s a reality that we in Osorno have been living with for almost four years and we plan to keep the issue alive.”
For his part, Pope Francis has defended his appointment of Bishop Juan Barros, saying that allegations that he covered up abuses by one of Chile's most notorious sexual predators, Father Fernando Karadima, were unfounded. While the priest has denied allegations of abuse, Barros claims he was unawware of any wrongdoing.
In 2015, Pope Francis surprised many when he told a group of tourists visiting St. Peter's Square in Vatican City that the people of Osorno “suffered for being dumb,” Reuters reported. He added that accusations against Barros had been fabricated by "leftists."
However, back in 2011, Karadima was found guilty of sexually abusing teenage boys for many years by Vatican investigators. They ordered the priest to retire to a “life of prayer and penitence.”
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Boston-based research group BishopAccountability.org, also wieghed in on the matter. She said that Pope Francis is “remarkable,” someone who has “obviously done a tremendous amount of good in the Catholic Church. But when it comes to the issue of child sexual abuse, he is as recalcitrant as any old-school bishop.”
Doyle, who plans to join the demonstrations in Chile, added that “I have never seen a reaction as powerful and anguished as the people of Osorno against this bishop.”