VATICAN CITY - Several members of Pope Francis' sex abuse advisory board are expressing concern and incredulity over his decision to appoint a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite allegations from victims that he covered up for Chile's most notorious pedophile.
In interviews and e-mails with the Associated Press, the experts have questioned Francis' pledge to hold bishops accountable, listen to victims, and keep children safe, given the record of Bishop Juan Barros in the case of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
Barros was installed last week as bishop of Osorno in southern Chile amid nationwide political opposition, violent protests in the cathedral, and a boycott by most of the diocese's priests and deacons. It was an almost unheard-of vote of no-confidence for a bishop in an overwhelmingly Catholic country in a part of the world that the Argentine pope knows well.
While the Holy See is loath to be bullied by public opinion, the concern about the appointment expressed by the commission members is hard to ignore given that they are not victim advocacy groups. Rather, they are professionals appointed by Francis to advise the Vatican on best practices to protect children and educate the church on how to respond to and prevent sexual abuse by priests.
The five commission members spoke to the AP in their personal and professional capacity and stressed that they knew about the case only from news reports and were not speaking on behalf of the 17-member commission.
"I am very worried," said commission member Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and author. "Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to . . . discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Francis."
Another commission member, Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, said she couldn't understand how Francis could have appointed Barros given the concerns about his behavior. "It goes completely against what he has said in the past about those who protect abusers," Collins said.
Barros said on the eve of his installation that he didn't know of any abuse until he read about the allegations in 2010 news reports.