SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A bishop was ordained in southern Chile on Saturday amid shouts and scuffles between supporters and protesters who accuse him of covering up crimes of a mentor the Vatican has sanctioned for abusing young boys.
Riot police protected the 58-year-old Rev. Juan Barros as he left the ceremony at the cathedral of San Mateo in the city of Osorno.
Thousands of churchgoers dressed in the black of mourning protested outside the church and a few made their way inside, despite police efforts to keep them out. Even inside the cathedral, supporters of Barros scuffled with opponents who shouted denunciations.
Only 15 of the country's 35 bishops and many priests from the diocese also shunned the ordination of their new bishop — a service without communion that was cut short after half an hour.
While Barros himself is not accused of molestation, at least three victims of sex abuse say he was present when they were molested by the Rev. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 90s.
The controversy has been closely watched by victims, advocacy groups and lawmakers as a test of Pope Francis' promises to crack down on clerical sex abuse.
"I hold the Pope responsible," said Juan Carlos Cruz, a 51-year-old journalist who is one of the accusers.
"As victims, we had become used to the slaps in the face by the Chilean hierarchy, but we never expected a slap in the face from the Pope," he told The Associated Press.
Barros had long declined to comment publicly on allegations against him. However he sent a letter to priests in the diocese on Monday saying he did not know about Karadima's abuses when they happened.
"I never had knowledge of, or could have imagined, the serious abuses that this priest committed against the victims," said the letter.
More than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with some 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile's 120 congress members sent letters to Francis last month urging him to rescind the appointment.
But the Pope confirmed his decision to appoint Barros after he recently met with him.
A Vatican investigation found Karadima, one of Chile's most prominent priests, guilty of sex abuse in 2011 and sentenced the now 84-year-old priest to a cloistered life of "penitence and prayer."
Criminal charges against him were thrown out because the statute of limitations had expired.
Cruz said that he and another teen boy would lie down on Karadima's bed, one resting his head at the man's shoulder, another sitting near his feet. The priest would kiss the boys and grope them, he said, while Barros watched.