Hundreds of protesters in Chile opposing the controversial appointment of a Santiago bishop, accused of being involved in a cover-up of sexual abuse, marched outside St Matthew’s Cathedral in Osorno, a day after supportive comments by Pope Francis were aired on Chilean television.
A local television station on Friday aired a video in which Pope Francis defends the bishop of Osorno, Monsignor Juan Barros, whose opponents allege was involved in a cover-up pertaining to a notorious pedophile priest. In the video, shot in May and broadcast only this week by Chilean TV channel Mega, Francis attacks “leftists,” blaming them for a campaign against Barros’ appointment.
“Don’t let yourselves be led by the noses, by the leftists who have plotted this,” the pope says in the video, speaking to Chilean visitors at the Vatican.
“Osorno is suffering from stupidity, and for not opening its heart to what God says. And for letting itself get carried away by the garbage everybody says,” he added, according to one translation of the video.
The pontiff also noted that the allegations against Barros had been dismissed by a Chilean court. The video was reportedly filmed by an Argentine on an iPad, who remains unidentified thus far.
Jaime Coiro, a former spokesman for the Chilean Bishops Conference and its current assistant secretary, in St Peter’s Square, said on his Twitter account that he was there when the video was made and that Francis was speaking to him. Coiro greets the pontiff and tells him the Chilean church is “praying and suffering for you.”
Some Catholic websites speculated over the weekend that the “leftists” cited by Francis are members of the Chilean Congress. Previously, many lawmakers from the government had signed a petition opposing Barros’ nomination to the post.
In late March, the Vatican released a statement defending Barros, saying the Congregation for Bishops examined his candidacy for bishop “and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”
On Sunday protests against Barros stepped up in intensity, calling on the pontiff to disqualify the priest and remove him from his post.
Barros has been accused of aiding Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned in 2011 for sexually abusing teenagers. Karadima was sentenced to a lifetime of “prayer and penance,” after being found guilty of pedophilia and abuse of his ecclesiastical position — a move that angered critics who accused the Church of not taking sexual abuse seriously enough.
At least three of Karadima’s alleged victims have said Barros knew about the abuse and was sometimes present when it took place, in the 1980s. Barros has said he knew nothing about Karadima’s wrongdoing. Some of the victims are attempting to sue the diocese of Santiago de Chile, asking for a public apology, a public acknowledgment of Karadima’s crimes and financial compensation.
Just three weeks earlier, the issue had arisen once again, when the Archbishop of Santiago Ricardo Ezzati asked for forgiveness during a homily after leaked emails showed the Church had tried to cover up the Karadima case.