Pope Francis is sending the Vatican's most respected sex crimes expert to Chile to investigate a bishop accused by victims of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest.
The Vatican said Tuesday that Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna would travel to Chile “to listen to those who have expressed the desire to provide elements” about the case of Bishop Juan Barros.
The Barros controversy dominated Francis' just-ended trip to Chile and exposed Francis' blind spot as far as clerical sex abuse is concerned. Even one of his closest advisers, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, publicly rebuked him for his treatment of victims and tried to set him straight.
Barros was a protege of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a charismatic and politically powerful priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican for sexually abusing minors in 2011. His victims testified to Chilean prosecutors that Barros and other priests in the El Bosque community saw Karadima kissing youngsters and were aware of his perversions, but did nothing.
After Karadima was sanctioned, Chile's bishops were so intent on trying to stem the fallout from the scandal that they persuaded the Vatican to have Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops resign and take a yearlong sabbatical, according to a 2015 letter obtained by The Associated Press.
But Francis stepped in and put a stop to the plan, arguing that there wasn't any proof against them. He overruled the local bishops' objections and in January 2015 appointed Barros to head the diocese of Osorno. Barros' presence there has badly split the dioceses ever since, with both laity and priests rejecting him and protesting his appointment.
The issue haunted Francis after he told a Chilean journalist during his visit that the accusations against Barros were “slander” and that he would only speak out if he had “proof” against Barros. Francis later apologized for having demanded proof of victims, but stood by his belief that the accusations against Barros were “calumny.”
Francis seemed unaware that Karadima's victims had placed Barros at the scene, and were the source of the accusations.
Scicluna was the Vatican's long-time sex crimes prosecutor in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was instrumental in finally bringing to justice Latin America's most notorious pedophile, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ.
Scicluna was tasked with gathering testimony from Maciel's victims, who for years had been discredited by senior Vatican and Legion officials and accused of slander for having accused Maciel. Scicluna, currently archbishop of Valletta, is now something of a hero to survivors of sex abuse for having finally understood the dynamic of the clerical abuse scandal and vigorously prosecuted priests who raped and molested children.