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Pope sends sex crimes expert to Chile to investigate bishop accused of cover-up

Bishop Charles Scicluna will “listen to those who have expressed the desire to provide elements” about the case of Bishop Juan Barros.

The Pope is sending the Vatican’s top sex crimes expert to Chile to investigate a bishop accused by victims of covering up for the country’s most notorious paedophile priest.

The Vatican said 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’ recent trip to Chile. Even one of his closest advisers, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, publicly rebuked the Pope for his treatment of victims.

Bishop 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 Bishop Barros and other priests in the El Bosque community saw Karadima kissing youngsters and were aware of his perversions, but did nothing about them.

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 year-long sabbatical, according to a 2015 letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Francis stepped in and put a stop to the plan, arguing that there was no proof against them. He overruled the local bishops’ objections and in January 2015 appointed Bishop Barros to head the diocese of Osorno. Bishop Barros’ presence there has badly split the dioceses ever since, with both laity and priests rejecting him and protesting against his appointment.

The issue haunted Francis after he told a Chilean journalist during his visit that the accusations against Bishop Barros were “slander” and that he would only speak out if he had “proof” of wrongdoing.

Francis later apologised for having demanded proof of victims, but stood by his belief that the accusations against the bishop were “calumny”.

Francis seemed unaware that Karadima’s victims had placed Barros at the scene, and were the source of the accusations.

Bishop 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 paedophile, the Rev Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ.

The bishop 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.

Bishop 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.

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