Vatican Defends Chilean Appointment

Response by Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director, (cell: 781-439-5208)
March 31, 2015

A Vatican spokesperson's dismissive statement today defending Pope Francis's appointment of Chilean bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid deepens the crisis of credibility that the pope is facing. What's at stake here is nothing less than papal accountability. Francis has pledged to discipline bishops who fail to protect children, and the Chilean public, along with members of his own abuse commission, are determined to hold him to his promise.

Today's statement is a disingenuous attempt to shift blame for this decision from the pope to the Congregation for Bishops. Pope Francis made the appointment and must own it. He should begin by explaining his deliberate choice to ignore multiple victims' testimony that Barros witnessed their sexual abuse by Karadima. Concepción archbishop Fernando Chomalí Garib, who discussed Barros with Francis in person last month, told the New York Times that the pope knew about these serious allegations. "The pope told me he had analyzed the situation in detail and found no reason” to rescind the appointment, Chomalí Garib said.

This response evokes not the compassion and honesty of Pope Francis but the coldness and dismissiveness of Cardinal Bergoglio. As Buenos Aires archbishop, he ignored repeated requests by anguished victims for intervention in their cases. While his colleagues in the US and Europe issued apologies, implemented reforms, and met with victims, he stayed largely silent on the issue of clergy sex abuse, except to issue an implausible denial that he had ever handled an abusive priest. His only known action was to commission a behind-the-scenes report to Argentine Supreme Court judges that impugned the credibility of victims of a criminally convicted priest – an action eerily consistent with the disregard the Pope has shown survivors’ witness in the Barros/Karadima case.

To regain public trust in his reforms, Pope Francis must explain why he chose Barros despite the victims' testimony, and he must immediately rescind the appointment. Barros must be suspended from ministry while his alleged wrongdoing is investigated.

Going forward, the pope must apply the lessons of the Barros fiasco to appointments, as well as to disciplinary reviews like the Finn investigation, which has been pending for many months. The leaders selected by him in the future must have records that indicate the moral capacity to execute the measures that the pope himself has invoked repeatedly -- 'zero tolerance' and accountability.

It is noteworthy and troubling that neither zero tolerance nor mandatory reporting is included in the universal policy framework – the CDF's 2011 Circular Letter – that Pope Francis said in early February he wants to be "fully implemented." The provisions in the framework are weak, leaving far too much to the individual bishop's discretion. Little good shall come from the Pope's efforts if he holds bishops – or himself – to such a low standard. For the Pope in the Barros/Karadima case, accountability begins at home.


Founded in 2003, maintains the world’s largest archive of documents on the problem of clergy sexual abuse, outside the Holy See’s own archives. We conduct research on child abuse by priests and religious and on the management of those cases by bishops and their staffs, superiors of religious orders, and the Holy See. An independent non-profit based in Waltham, Massachusetts, USA, is not a victims' advocacy group and is not affiliated with any church, reform, or victims' organization.

Contacts for

Anne Barrett Doyle, Co-Director,,, 781-439-5208 cell
Terence McKiernan, President and Co-Director,,, 508-479-9304



Pope Francis in Argentina

Profiles of Argentine victims who tried to contact the pope

Letter to Pope from Argentine victims, sent 7/5/2014

Cardinal Bergoglio's statement that he never handled an abusive priest in the Buenos Aires archdiocese

Database of accused priests of Argentina


















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