Time was running out. It seemed he had made his way past all his opponents and he was on the verge of going into the end zone when he fumbled the ball. It was picked up by the opposing side who ran it back for their own touchdown. Final Score: Francis 0; Ill-wishers 7.
Pope Francis was on the last day of his visit in Chile where he had arrived three days earlier when he was asked by a reporter concerned about his no tolerance policy for sexual abuse and Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid. The Pope had named bishop of a small diocese in the Chilean city of Osorno in 2015. At the time of his installation as bishop there were “teeming protesters, shouting matches, and popping balloons. . . . The service was cut short, and Barros was escorted by police through a side door. Chile’s cardinals, along with most of its bishops, were not in attendance. Familiar with recent history, they knew it was going to be an ugly scene.”
This near riot was because Barros was a protégé of Fr. Fernando Karadim who had been found guilty of molesting many minors by the Holy See. It ordered Karadim then 80-years-old to a life of “prayer and penance.” Karadim was one of Chile’s most influential clerics who has been priest to the wealthy, powerful elite. His case was called the worst scandal ever to befall the Chilean Catholic Church. Victims who were once his devotees said that Barros knew about the accusations, did nothing about them, and witnessed some himself.
When the appointment of Barros was announced protests spread throughout Chile. Many called for the Pope to reconsider. Two Chilean bishops went to Rome advising against the appointment. The Pope told them he had analyzed the situation in detail and found no reason to change his mind. The pressure on the Pope grew especially after he spoke out against “the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors.”
But the Vatican pushed back saying prior to Barrros’s appointment “the Congregation for Bishops carefully examined the prelate’s candidature and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.” An article from which I obtained the quotes above written back in April 2015 noted if the Pope lets the appointment stand he will imperil “his reputation as a reformer.”
Marie Collins from Dublin, a then member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said: “I just don’t understand this appointment. It seems completely contrary to what the pope has been saying. I really feel for the survivors in Chile, Juan Carlos and the others. They’ve been so courageous and it must be very tough for them.”
Up to that time of the reporter’s question the trip had gone swimmingly. The Pope had met with victims of sexual abuse and apologized for the Church’s role in it. The reporter’s question was one the Pope could have hit out of the park with a simple answer, “I have full confidence in Bishop Barros. I expect he will do the right thing when it comes to victims of priest abuse.”
Rather than answering with sugar, the Pope apparently showing his irritation replied with some tabasco sauce: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I’ll speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It’s all calumny. Is that clear?”
That doesn’t sound like the Pope Francis we have all come to know. He undid all the good he had done to that point on his trip falling into the trap of those who wish him ill. You don’t say victims are making of false and defamatory statements in order to damage a bishop’s reputation even if you believe it. You don’t challenge victims to bring you proof after the Church has already been given all their statements.
I initially thought the Pope was on his fourth day in Chile. He’s an 81-year-old man who had never followed the TB12 way of life. You have to expect he was tired. He is after all human and when worn down old folk get grouchy. But that didn’t really satisfy me.
Barros faced allegations similar to those against Cardinal Law. Those should have stopped his appointment. Pope Francis never would have appointed him with a free hand. But he did not have one because of Vatican intrigue .The top cardinal in the Holy See is Cardinal Angelo Sodano. He is Dean of the College of Cardinals and was the Vatican’s Secretary of State for 15 years. Sodano who speaks five languages was appointed apostolic nuncio to Chile in 1977 where he stayed for 11 years digging deep roots there. Pinochet was in power during his time.
Sodano considered the complaints of victims of abuse as the “petty gossip of the moment.” He stopped two investigations into notorious abusers Hans Hermann Groer and Marcial Maciel. Sodano was also buddies with Karadima while in Argentina. Under Sodana’s influence the current papal nucio to Chile is Ivo Scapola called a “Sodano protegé.” Gerald Posner who wrote a book on the Vatican bank said: “Pope Francis’ reform broom has not swept up Cardinal Sodano, who at 87 relishes the Vatican power game.”
It appears the both Sodano and Scapola lobbied and forced the appointment of Barros. Pope Francis against his better judgment did it. He was always bothered by it perhaps spending sleepless nights. When it came up all the guilt he had against appointing a person who was accused of abuse as a bishop welled up in him. He lashed out showing his frustration.
This is the realpolitik of the Vatican. What the Pope got in exchange for this we may never know. The act of appointing Barros is old; the Pope’s outburst new, unexpected and wrong. Pope’s act against his better judgment has come back to take a bite out of his reputation, that of the Church, and gave the ill-wishers a clear victory.
Ona side note I must wish my sister Kathleen “Happy Birthday” on her 39th birthday.