Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Catholics: Don't Believe CNA's Spin on Bishop Barros and the Situation in Chile

A scene from the Riot in the Cathedral, where protesters attempted to stop the appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno.

Conservatives are rightly angry at liberal bias in the media.  There's a lot of it.

But the game works both ways.  There's a huge conservative bias as well, and it follows a pattern.

The pattern is typically this.  Someone in the Church does something horrifically awful and outrageously embarrassing, something that can't possibly be defending or excused.  For several days the truth is out there and none of my DC (Defensive Catholic) friends comment on it either here or on Facebook or elsewhere.  An awkward silence falls and the truth is simply ignored.

Then (typically) the Catholic Defense League or an organization like Catholic News Agency pipes up with a defense of the situation that is a real stretch of the imagination, but that provides a handy template for the reactionaries to use, and suddenly comboxes are filled everywhere with the rank and file DCs who have swallowed the template whole, who run with it and who don't look back.

With Bishop Finn, the lie that was being promulgated was that the priest's crime at the center of the scandal was not child pornography at all, that the priest in question was utterly innocent, and that Finn did all he could in the situation, that he was being persecuted for being a vocally orthodox bishop who was firm on pro life issues, and that this is why folks in Kansas City were out to crucify him, the whole case against Finn being trumped up.

But the truth was just the opposite.  In fact, not only (in that case) were the pictures in question child porn, but the perpetrator priest was sentenced to fifty years in prison for producing the hundreds of images, using his own parishioners as victims, some under the age of three. And for years prior, Finn not only refused to look into or even acknowledge any of the many complaints about this priest's behavior, some of which came directly from the principal of the school that most of the victims attended, he also stonewalled once the child porn came to light, failed to inform or warn any of the families of the victims, gave the priest continued access to children, was complicit in the destruction of evidence, spent $1.4 million of diocesan money defending himself against two misdemeanor charges in court, only alerted the police when forced to, and, in short, put children at risk and failed to get the offending priest any serious help or counseling.

The Defensive Template bore no relation at all to the real situation.

And now we have Catholic News Agency doing the same thing, albeit with more subtlety, but in a way that's just as clumsy and heavy handed.  Several days after the original reports of the Riot in the Cathedral in Osorno, Chile surfaced - several days after right wing Catholics have been studiously ignoring them - a template has been handed down.  And now this is what the DCs (Defensive Catholics) will use to defend the episcopacy and to see-no-evil, hear-no-evil.

So, since that is bound to happen, let me address the CNA "report" and counter its most egregious errors.

I'll quote from CNA's biased spin on the story with my own comments (in red, a la Father Z), which are closer to the truth ...


1.    Who is Fernando Karadima Farina?

Fr. Karadima fostered the vocation of some 40 priests (What CNA leaves out: Fr. Karadima sexually abused altar boys for fifty years - according to court documents.  He led a kind of cult-within-the-church, feeding his own lust while appealing to wealthy right-wing Catholics with his ostensible orthodoxy, after the pattern of Fr. Maciel of the Legion of Christ), including Bishop Juan Barros, who decades ago belonged to Karadima’s closest circle of friends (and was, according to some, Karadima's gay lover - which, I suppose counts as belonging to Karadima's "closest circle of friends".) When reports of sexual abuse and other scandal surrounding Karadima surfaced, Bishop Barros, like a number of other prelates, at first did not believe the accusations. (Not only did they not believe them, they stonewalled and prevented the allegations from being seriously considered.  Against their own diocesan policies regarding the protection of children, allegations against Karadima were never presented to any committee.  Barros himself is said to have angrily torn up a letter to the bishop by one of Karadima's victims.)

The judge in the civil case dismissed the charges because the alleged abuse was too far in the past. (It was not alleged abuse, it was actual abuse, as the judge acknowledged in her ruling, and as the Vatican eventually confirmed.  It was not "too far in the past", it was simply not covered by the statute of limitations.  The phrasing of this sentence alone tells you all you need to know about CNA's agenda in this bit of "reporting".)  Nevertheless, in February 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican completed its own investigation and declared 84-year-old Karadima guilty. He was sent to a life of solitude and prayer (a sentence he is reportedly flouting).

The news of the sentence surprised bishops, priests and lay people who viewed the priest as a role model and considered the initial accusations as an attack on the Church (and therefore refused seriously to consider them - EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE TRUE ALL ALONG).

2.    Juan Carolos Cruz and the accusers

Three of Karadima’s reported victims are accusing Bishop Barros of covering up the priest’s abuses. The accusations do not agree with the investigation carried out by the Vatican.  (Here we have a simple lie at worst, and an utterly strange assertion at best.  All we know of the Vatican's investigation is the upshot, the sentence.  The accusations were part of the evidence the Vatican considered.  If the accusations led to the sentence - which was guilty - how can CNA claim that the accusations "do not agree" with the "investigation carried out by the Vatican"?  This assertion crosses the line from biased reporting with a pro-episcopal slant to simple falsehood).  Juan Carlos Cruz is the most well known of the accusers. He lives in the United States and is often asked by national and international news media for comments on what is happening in the Chilean Church.

After Bishop Juan Barros was appointed as Bishop of Orsono, Cruz told CNN Chile that the Chilean Episcopal Conference and Pope Francis were giving Karadima’s victims “a slap in the face.” This has created international media attention.  (CNA is deliberately leaving out a crucial fact.  Cruz and the other accusers are claiming that Barros both protected Karadima and participated in the abuse by watching it take place as a voyeur.  If that's true, isn't Barros' appointment a "slap in the face"?  And even if it's not true, is not Pope Francis' appointment of a bishop who was part of the inner-inner circle of a cannonically convicted abuser a "slap in the face"?  Is it wrong that this phrase has generated media attention, as CNA implies?)

3.    Bishop Barros’ Defense

Bishop Juan Barros and three other bishops close to Karadima supported the decision of the Holy See in April of 2011 and denied having known about his double life. They declared in a statement that “with great sorrow we have accepted the sentence declaring him guilty of serious offences condemned by the Church. Like so many, we learned about this situation and its diverse and multiple effects with deep astonishment and pain.”

In a letter addressed to the faithful of the Osorno diocese days before his installation, Bishop Barros reiterated that “I never had any knowledge of any accusation concerning Father Karadima when I was the Secretary for Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno and I never had any knowledge nor did I even imagine such grave abuses as this priest committed against his victims. I neither approved nor participated in those actions.”

“The deep pain that continues to affect the victims for long years profoundly hurts me. And I reiterate along with the whole Church that there is no place in the priesthood for those that commit those abuses,” he added.

Before taking up his responsibility as the Bishop of Osorno on March 21, 2015, the prelate reiterated that he was not linked to the priest’s abuses.

“I am telling you, before God who is listening to us, it did not cross my mind that these things were going on. I would not have accepted it for any reason, and I am not a friend of Fernando Karadima,” he stated.  (As Bill Clinton would say, "That depends on what the definition of 'am' is."  While Barros says "I am not a friend of Fernando Karadima," he certainly was.  Read on.)

He added that before the Vatican convicted him in 2011, “I was already becoming distant from him. Of course I had been close, but I was already becoming distant from him, not because I knew about these questions of the accusations but because he became ill tempered.  I never knew about these very tragic things. The pain of the victims hurts me enormously, I pray for those that carry this pain with them today.”  (So Barros was indeed at one time "close" to Karadima, which is glossed over in his denials and in CNA's reporting.  

Barros may be telling the truth here.  He may be innocent of any cover-up of Karadima's actions, of any collusion with Karadima's bishop who covered for him, of any sexual contact with Karadima and with any vicarious participation in the abuse.

But here's what makes me skeptical.  

1. The three public accusers of Barros are three of the victims of Karadima.  They were not believed for many years.  They were ostracized and criticized and belittled.  But they were telling the truth.  Both a judge in Chile and the Vatican admit that, all along, they were telling the truth about Karadima.  So why are they now, all of a sudden, beginning to lie about one of Karadima's intimates?  Why stop telling the truth about how they were abused - a truth that was never believed - and start lying at this point?

2. If these accusers are lying, if they are trying to destroy Barros, why are they not accusing him of sexual abuse?  Why are they adamant that Barros did not directly abuse them, that he merely "watched" as they were abused, engaged in sexual contact with Karadima, and ran interference for him, preventing their eventual complaints from being heard?  Why are these accusers deliberately limiting their accusations against Barros if they're lying and if their goal is to destroy him?)

Before being the bishop of Osorno, Bishop Barros was the bishop for the Chilean military for almost 11 years, Bishop of Iquique for four years and Auxiliary Bishop of Valparaiso for five years. During all this time, his ministry had not been questioned. (This riot was caused not by Barros' previous episcopal positions, but by his being appointed by Francis as bishop of Osorno, the first appointment of Barros since his mentor Karadima was convicted.  It's obvious why this appointment caused a furor, while Barros's appointment as bishop of the military a decade ago was not on anyone's radar.  To imply that this indicates some sort of shadowy agenda on the part of the rioters is typical of this whole article, which reads more like a pro-Barros press release than a news report.)

4.    The Protests in Osorno

On the day Bishop Barros was installed, dozens of people (no, hundreds of people inside the cathedral and about 4,000 outside the cathedral), including non-Catholics, (what evidence does CNA have that non-Catholics were involved in the protests?  What difference would it make even if they were?  Are non-Catholics not allowed to enter a cathedral?  Are non-Catholics not allowed to protest?) entered the Cathedral of Osorno with banners and black balloons to protest against the prelate. Large groups inside the church held white balloons and banners in support of the bishop.

The media has publicized a letter signed by priests and deacons, as well as a letter from the Congregation of the Sacred Heart signed by their provincial Father Alex Vigueras, demanding the resignation of the prelate.

In response, the Permanent Committee of the Chilean Episcopal Conference issued a March 18 statement expressing their “support, in a spirit of faith and obedience, for Pope Francis who has nominated Bishop Barros as bishop of the Diocese of Osorno.”

5 . Other interests?

The media coverage on Bishop Barros’ appointment as Bishop of Oserno is taking place in the midst of the debate on legalizing abortion as well as bills on euthanasia and homosexual unions in Chile. The Church is one of the few voices that is speaking out against these proposals.

In this context, 51 congressional representatives sent a letter to the Vatican questioning the appointment, some of whom are close to Cruz. This has led to some speculation that those advocating legal and social changes are using the Karadima case and his former friendship with Bishop Barro to discredit the Church in this debate.

(Is it possible that the protests against Barros are politically motivated, and that the pro-abortion / pro-"gay marriage" crowd is trying to capitalize on this situation?  Certainly!  In fact, I can't imagine that those with a liberal political agenda are not trying to capitalize on this.

But that's not the point.  

Fellow Catholics, we are not always persecuted because of our beliefs.  We are not always persecuted because we're trying to do good.  

In fact, when it comes to the Abuse Scandal, we are criticized and persecuted because of the evil the bishops have condoned and facilitated.  

And until we acknowledge that, and as long as we buy the PR-spin that organizations like CNA pass off as "reporting", we'll never make progress on issues like abortion and marriage.  In buying the Great Lie that CNA is selling here, we become anti-evangelists, witnessing against truth and goodness, witnessing against Our Lord Himself.)


ADDENDUM - There are reports that the Chilean Bishops' Conference forced Barros and three other bishops publicly to apologize for supporting Karadima.  Barros is not the "aw, shucks, what did I know?" former pal of Karadima that he claims to be.  He was his protege and one of his most adamant supporters (at the very least).  And remember, Karadima sexually abused altar boys for over fifty years, with bishops stonewalling and covering up for him during that time.


Jerry Slevin said...

Thank you for your full and fair analysis.

Please see my related remarks entitled, "Chile Exposes Pope Francis - Will Philly, NYC &/or DC Be Next? Is A Council Near?", the link is:

Jerry Slevin

Kevin O'Brien said...

Jerry, you claim at your linked post, "The victims of Karadima have accused Barros of covering up for Karadima, while he sexually abused devoted followers during the 1980s and 1990s. Barros, and three other bishops associated with Karadima, defended their mentor and tried to discredit the victims, even after the Vatican ruled against him. The Chilean Bishops Conference nevertheless forced the four to publicly apologize for supporting Karadima." - what is your source for this? Thanks!

Steve said...

Thank you. I believe your money quote is such: "Fellow Catholics, we are not always persecuted because of our beliefs. We are not always persecuted because we're trying to do good.

In fact, when it comes to the Abuse Scandal, we are criticized and persecuted because of the evil the bishops have condoned and facilitated."

If indeed this guilty prelate is flouting his penance of isolation and prayer, he should be turned over to the civil authorities for punishment.

Anonymous said...

Can you give any cite for the allegation that Barros might have been Karadima's gay lover? I want to mention it, but I would like to do so with a cite. Thank you.
Jennifer Jones

Kevin O'Brien said...



"Cruz has said that during the time he was abused, Karadima and Barros behaved intimately with one another in his presence.

"I saw Karadima and Juan Barros kissing and touching each other. The groping generally came from Karadima touching Barros' genitals," Cruz said in a January letter to Monsignor Ivo Scapolo, the papal nuncio in Chile. Cruz provided a copy of the letter to the AP.


That is from the Associated Press here It's quoted elsewhere as well.

Portia's Sister said...

Continued thanks for these posts. This recent appointment is outrageous and heartbreaking. I hope to God it is resolved in peace and justice.

Anonymous said...

You raise several good questions about this case and the claims of the abuse victims. It's a very sad case that had not heard of before.

Your comments in red give your readers the impression that you have alternate, even first-hand or insider, information about Bishop Barros and his relationship to Fr. Kadima. Yet you give your readers no footnote, end note or clue as to where your information comes from. Can you please provide your sources on each of these claims in your comments?
Joe Griesemer

Kevin O'Brien said...

Hey, Joe! All of my info came from reports on the internet, especially the AP and the New York Times. I should have footnoted or provided links. I will do so if I write more about this in the future. Meanwhile, if you need to know about any particular item, ask me and I'll publish the link here in the comment section, as I did above re. the claim that Barros and Karadima has sexual contact with one another.