VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis met Friday with the bishop running a Chilean diocese where there has been unprecedented opposition to the nomination of his successor, accused of covering up for Chile's most notorious pedophile.
The Vatican released no details of Francis' audience with Monsignor Fernando Natalio Chomali Garib, who has been running the Osorno diocese temporarily since its previous bishop was transferred in 2013.
In January, Francis appointed Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to take over permanently. But in the ensuing weeks, some 1,300 lay faithful from Osorno, 51 of Chile's 120 national lawmakers and many of the 35 priests from the diocese urged Francis to rescind the appointment.
They have accused Barros of covering up for the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a prominent and charismatic priest sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors. A criminal complaint against Karadima was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, but the Chilean judge handling the case determined the abuse allegations were truthful.
Barros had been close to Karadima, and some of Karadima's victims have accused him of defending the priest against their claims of abuse. Barros has not responded to the accusations; the issue is likely to come to a head before the planned March 21 ceremony in which he is to be formally installed as bishop of Osorno.
The Barros case is being watched as a test case for Francis on the question of holding accountable bishops who covered up for pedophiles. Francis has already sent a Vatican investigator to the U.S. diocese of Kansas City, where Bishop Robert Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report a priest who had child pornography on his computer.
But the Vatican has taken no action against Finn, and no bishop has ever been publicly sanctioned for having covered up for an abuser.
Members of Francis' sex abuse advisory commission have said holding bishops accountable is one of their priorities, and that they are drafting proposals for Francis to consider for sanctioning compromised bishops.
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