SANTIAGO - The Vatican's top sexual abuse investigator said he had started taking testimony on Tuesday from victims in the Chilean capital, where he is looking into accusations that a bishop appointed by Pope Francis covered up crimes against minors.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta was sent to Chile after the pope was criticized during his visit last month for defending Bishop Juan Barros, who he appointed in 2015 despite accusations he had covered up sexual abuse of minors.
Several men have accused Barros of protecting his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing them and others when they were boys.
Scicluna, known for his role in the sex abuse investigation that led to the removal of late Mexican priest Marcial Maciel in 2005, arrived in Santiago on Monday. On Tuesday, he had his first interviews with victims in Providencia, the wealthy Santiago neighborhood that is home to Karadima's former parish, and issued a short statement to reporters afterward.
"I have come to Chile, sent by Pope Francis, to gather useful information concerning Monsignor Juan Barros," Scicluna said. "I want to express my gratitude to the people who have expressed their willingness to meet me in the next few days."
Before his trip to Chile, Scicluna spent four hours hearing testimony in New York from a key witness in the case against Barros.
Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually abused by Karadima as a teenager, told reporters he gave "eye opening" testimony to Scicluna on Saturday. Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, has said Barros was present for the abuse.
Following his meeting with Scicluna, Cruz said he felt for the first time that someone was listening. He urged the Church to hear all victims with the same respect he received from Scicluna.
Barros, of the diocese of Osorno, has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing by Karadima.
During his visit to Chile last month, the pope testily told a Chilean reporter: "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?"
The comments were widely criticized and Francis later issued a statement saying Scicluna would go to "listen to those who want to submit information in their possession."
Scicluna was due to hear victim testimony until his scheduled departure from Chile on Friday.