The Vatican’s recent statement that the Congregation of Bishops has found “no objective reason to preclude” Juan Madrid Barros’ appointment as bishop of Osorno, Chile, is extremely disheartening to Catholic Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful, especially in light of the promise of Francis’ papacy for a more accountable, collegial Church.
Barros is accused by victims of covering up for Fr. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty in 2011 of sexual abuse of minors. Apparently, the terse Vatican statement on Barros’ appointment does not address these allegations.
The Vatican’s position is particularly troubling in at least two ways.
First, Pope Francis appears to be going back on his word to hold bishops accountable for covering up clergy sexual abuse. He has said repeatedly that such accountability is necessary. In July 2014, for example, he is reported as saying bishops “will be held accountable” for failing to protect children from sexual abuse in his homily during Mass with clergy sexual abuse survivors. Similarly, following the meeting this past February of his Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, the Vatican is reported to have vowed a keen awareness “that the issue of accountability is of major importance.”
Second, the concerns of clergy and laity in Osorno seem to have been ignored. Their attempts to bar Barros’ appointment failed, and congregants at his installation Mass created a near riot that drove the bishop to escape the cathedral through a side door. The Vatican’s failure to listen to clergy and laity in Osorno brings into question all of Pope Francis’ statements about his wishes to bring collegiality to Church governance, to listen to the laity and to make decisions at the local level.
Now installed, it’s hard to see how Barros could live up to what Francis admonished papal nuncios to heed in a June 2013 address: “In the delicate task of carrying out inquiries for episcopal appointments, be careful that the candidates are pastors close to the people, fathers and brothers …”
Pope Francis has addressed this issue many times over the past two years, but his most telling remark concerning how he would like to see the Church make decisions comes from his October 2013 interview with America magazine: “All the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief … When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit .. We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the Church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the Church.”
In Osorno, no “dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope” seems to have occurred, at the expense of Francis’ accountable, collegial Church. Barros is bishop, and the Vatican appears disinclined to remove him. Perhaps, in considering the situation, Barros will take to heart Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati’s remark. Ezzati is reported to have said that “a bishop can, eventually, resign.”