Pope Francis is sending the Church’s leading abuse investigator to Chile in order to look into accusations that a bishop covered up crimes against children.
The Pontiff has asked Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna to go to the country on behalf of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, to listen to those who say they have information regarding Bishop Juan Barros and the covering up of clerical abuse.
Ordained a bishop in 1995, and bishop to Chile’s armed forces from 2004, Dr Barro’s 2015 appointment by Pope Francis to head the small diocese of Osorno has been highly controversial. A number of men have accused Dr Barros of having been aware of abuse committed by his onetime mentor, Fr Fernando Karadima, and of having protected Fr Karadima when the abuse was reported in the 1980s.
Fr was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing them and others when they were boys. Dr Barros has said he was unaware of Fr Karadima’s actions until 2010.
During his visit to Chile this month, the Pope defended Dr Barros, saying: “The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?” His comments were widely criticised, with Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a key papal adviser and president of the Pope’s child protection commission, said the Pope had caused “great pain” to abuse survivors. The Pontiff subsequently apologised for any pain he had caused, while stating on his flight back to Rome from South America that he had seen no evidence of Dr Barros’ guilt, maintaining that accusations without evidence are “calumny”.
However, yesterday the Vatican announced that “as a result of some information received recently” about Dr Barros, Pope Francis has decided to send Dr Scicluna to Chile “to those who have expressed their wish to submit elements in their possession”.
As promoter of Justice in the CDF under St John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI until 2012, the then Msgr Scicluna in 2005 uncovered evidence of sexual abuse that led to the removal of the late Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, and was responsible for heading the original Vatican investigation into Fr Karadima.