Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the Vatican's most experienced investigators, began a series of meetings Tuesday with witnesses accusing a Chilean bishop, appointed by Pope Francis, of covering up sexual abuse of minors by a priest.
Archbishop 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 sexual abuse investigation that led to the removal of late Mexican priest Marcial Maciel in 2005, arrived in Santiago Monday. On Tuesday he had interviews with victims in Providencia, the wealthy Santiago neighborhood that is home to Karadima's former parish.
"I have come to Chile, sent by Pope Francis, to gather useful information concerning Monsignor Juan Barros," Scicluna said in a short statement to reporters after the meetings. "I want to express my gratitude to the people who have expressed their willingness to meet me in the next few days."
Scicluna met for more than two hours with James Hamilton, one of Karadima victims, who expressed his hope that the testimonies would reach the pope. "I have no doubt that Monsignor Scicluna is going to share [with the pope] what is really happening in Chile," Hamilton told reporter Tuesday after the meeting.
When asked if he expects a canonical investigation or the removal of the bishop in question, he said "I hope that in the Chile of the future, there is security for children, there is no statute of limitations on sexual abuse, that Sename [Chile's child protection service] cares for children … It does not matter to me what the Catholic Church.”
Protests erupted in Chile after Pope Francis appointed Barros bishop of Osorno in 2015. When the pope visited Chile last month, protesters took to the street again to denounce his visit and the Catholic church calling for the prosecution of “pedophile accomplices”.
Despite meeting privately with Karadima’s sexual abuse victims during his visit, the pope failed to announce any concrete actions and later 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?"
He was widely criticized for that comment and pressure began to mount on the Vatican to investigate the allegations against Barros, prompting him to announce the investigation by Scicluna in late January.
Before arriving in Chile, Scicluna met Saturday in New York with Juan Carlos Cruz, another victim of Karadima, who said that the meeting went well and that he was “hopeful” that the Vatican would finally take action.