Members of a commission advising Pope Francis on how to rid the Catholic Church of sexual abuse have met a top Vatican official to express their misgivings over the appointment of a bishop in Chile accused of covering up abuse.
Marie Collins, a victim of abuse from Ireland, told Reuters the meeting four members had with Cardinal Sean O'Malley on Sunday night “went well and the cardinal promised to take our concerns to the Holy Father.”
Last month, the Vatican defended the appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of the Chilean city of Osorno, which had outraged some parishioners, national legislators and abuse victims who said Barros had protected one of the nation's most notorious pedophiles.
The four lay commission members who flew to Rome to meet O'Malley said in a statement it was of “paramount importance” that the Vatican appoint bishops who understand child protection.
“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,” it said.
Critics in Chile say Barros was aware of and helped cover up abuse by Father Fernando Karadima, 84, a mentor to a number of younger priests including Barros.
Karadima has denied accusations of abuse and Barros denies having any knowledge that abuse took place.
But in 2011 a Vatican investigation found Karadima guilty of abusing teenage boys over many years and ordered him to retire to “a life of prayer and penitence.” A separate criminal case against Karadima collapsed because of the statute of limitations.
Juan Barros was installed on March 21 as supporters holding white balloons and opponents carrying black ones shouted at each other during the ceremony in Osorno cathedral.
In response to the protests, the Vatican last month said its Congregation for Bishops had “carefully examined the prelate's candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”
Critics say it will be impossible for Barros to do his job given the divisions the appointment has caused and say he should be removed or step down.
The other three members of the commission who met O'Malley were Peter Saunders, a victim of abuse, and Baroness Sheila Hollins, both of Britain, and Catherine Bonnet of France. Hollins and Bonnet are experts on child protection. O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, is head of the 17-member commission.