Archbishop Chomali: Pope Francis was confident in appointing Chilean bishop

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Archbishop Chomali of Conception meets with Pope Francis. Credit: Conferencia Episcopal de Chile.

Both the Archbishop of Concepcion and the apostolic nuncio to Chile have maintained that Pope Francis understood all the facts in the case when he made a bishop appointment in the country earlier this year which has met with protests.

The Chilean Archbishop Fernando Chomali Garib of Concepcion said Thursday that Pope Francis “told me he had analyzed all the past records and that there was no objective reason at all” that Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid “should not be installed as the diocesan bishop.”

In an interview with the Chilean newspaper El Sur published March 26, the Archbishop of Concepcion disclosed the details of a meeting he had with Pope Francis March 6, shortly before Bishop Barros was to be installed as head of the Diocese of Osorno.

Bishop Barros' installation was marred by a group of protesters who are accusing him of having covered up sexual abuses committed by  Father Fernando Karadima, a charge the prelate denied numerous times. Bishop Barros' vocation was fostered by Fr. Karadima, and he was among his closest circle of friends decades ago.

Archbishop Chomali explained that he gave Pope Francis a “document with detailed information on the consequences of the appointment he had made. All the documentation that I cited came to him, whether through the nunciature or the Chilean embassy to the Holy See. He was very much up to date on Bishop Barros’ situation, and in fact a few days prior he had spoken with him.”

“With firmness and much conviction he told me that he had analyzed all the past records and that there was no objective reason that Bishop Barros should not be installed as diocesan bishop,” Archbishop Chomali explained.

Concerning the violent incidents inside the cathedral the day of the installation Mass, Archbishop Chomali said, “we ever even imagined that. It was absolutely surprising. It had a deep impact on us.”

“It is certainly a sad episode … clearly those who profaned the church and the Mass and attacked are not Catholics.” In fact, only 52 percent of the population of the Diocese of Osorno is Catholic, making it one of Chile's least-Catholic regions.

The violence at the Mass, the archbishop said, “is a symptom more of the level of violence that there is in the country, and it demonstrates that we are far from an authentic democracy and mutual respect.”

Reflecting on the larger context of the case of Fr. Karadima, Archbishop Chomali said it “profoundly affected individuals and society. What happened is a wake up call for the whole Church concerning the consequences  of abuse, which lasts for years and inflict wounds that need to be healed.”

The judge in Fr. Karadima's civil case dismissed the abuse charges, as they were too far in the past. Nevertheless, in February 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith completed its own investigation and declared 84-year-old Fr. Karadima guilty. He was sent to a life of solitude and prayer.

When reports of sexual abuse and other scandal surrounding Fr. Karadima surfaced, Bishop Barros, like a number of other prelates, at first did not believe the accusations. In 2011, Bishop Barros said he “learned about this situation and its diverse and multiple effects with deep astonishment and pain.”

Archbishop Chomali explained that he had a telephone conversation with Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the victims, and moreover he will meet with him soon. “What’s most important is that once and for all Karadima ask the victims for forgiveness and wishes to repair the evil he caused before he dies,” the archbishop said.

The prelate then asked those that rejected Bishop Barros’ arrival as Osorno’s new bishop to “give him an opportunity, that they can get to know one another and that they help him in his pastoral ministry. Bishop Barros has hope in the future.”

In an interview with La Tercera newspaper the same day Archbishop Chomali made his comments, the Apostolic Nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, stated, “everything that was said in the letter that the congressional representatives delivered to the nunciature was given to the Holy Father. Everything was passed on to him. Nothing was hidden from the Holy See.”

Regarding the violence at the installation ceremony, Archbishop Scapolo said, “the great majority of those who were in the church had white balloons (the protesters had black balloons). They were people who love their bishop.”

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