Francis has apologised over the ‘Barros affair’. But the matter is far from resolved

by Christopher Altieri

Pope Francis’s letter to the bishops of Chile, written on the Octave of Easter and released to the public last week, has been received with cautious appreciation by abuse victims. It has also set the stage for a meeting between the Pope and the Chilean bishops that ought to be the first step towards directly and decisively addressing the “Barros affair”.

The Pope’s mishandling of the case of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, is arguably the worst crisis of his five-year pontificate. The protracted and stubborn mishandling of the case, at the highest levels of Church governance, has been a cause of deep pain and scandal ­– in both the technical and colloquial senses of the term – for Chilean believers and for the Catholic faithful throughout the world.

The latest episode began in January, during Pope Francis’s visit to Chile. That was when Francis levelled repeated allegations of calumny against abuse victims who said Bishop Barros turned a blind eye to abuse by Fr Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious paedophile priest. Pope Francis had moved Barros from the country’s military see to the Diocese of Osorno in early 2015, dismissing the objections of clergy and faithful who were aware of the allegations against him and concerned with his record.

The Pope went on to claim that he had no evidence against Bishop Barros – despite the proven existence of a letter written in 2014 by one of Bishop Barros’s principal accusers, Juan Carlos Cruz. Mr Cruz’s letter was apparently hand-delivered to Pope Francis by Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. When the details of that letter became public, Pope Francis decided to send Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to investigate, claiming “new elements” had emerged to warrant the investigation.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection