Chile: Pope asks Archbishop Scicluna to investigate Bishop Barros case


Archbishop  Scicluna

Archbishop Scicluna

Source: Vatican News Service

Pope Francis today announced that Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta will go to Chile to examine the case involving Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile. Archbishop Scicluna is President of the College for the examination of appeals (in matters of delicta graviora) at the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

According to a statement from the Holy See Press Office, the decision to send Archbishop Scicluna to Chile comes "following recently received information regarding the case." The nature of that information was not disclosed but the statement said the archbishop would "hear those who have expressed their willingness to submit elements in their possession."

There have been a number of allegations that Bishop Barros took part in covering up the sex crimes of Fr Fernando Karadima. Fr Karadima had been a popular priest in Chile, but was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing minors and sent to a life of "prayer and penance" - and prohibited from public exercise of his priestly ministry.

Controversy grew in 2015 when Pope Francis appointed Bishop Barros to lead the diocese of Osorno, triggering protests by some clerics in Chile and a riot during the bishop's installation service. The appointment and the Pope's defense of Bishop Barros became an issue during the Holy Father's January 15-22, 2018, apostolic journey to Chile and Peru.

During his visit to Chile, when the Pope was asked about the case, he said that until he saw proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of Fr Karadima, such accusations were "all calumny."

These comments aroused worldwide criticism. Cardinal O'Malley of Boston, who also leads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, said the Pontiff's response could be discouraging and could hurt victims.

The Pope stressed that while he does believe in "zero tolerance," he also will not cast stones until there is evidence.

The sex abuse scandals in Chile led to many protests, leading up to and during the Pope's visit to the country. Pope Francis did meet and apologize to victims of clerical sex abuse during his visit.

Speaking with reporters on his return flight from Peru to Rome, the Pope said, "I now realize that my expression was an unfortunate one." While apologizing for his choice of words, the Pope still stressed: "I can't condemn him because I don't have evidence and because I am convinced he is innocent."

Unless "credible evidence" is brought against him, Pope Francis said, Barros would remain in his place. In these circumstances, the findings of Archbishop Scicluna will be widely anticipated.

Archbishop Scicluna served as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The Promoter of Justice is often referred to as the CDF's "chief prosecutor" and is charged with investigating canon law offenses that are regarded as being the most serious, including crimes against the sanctity of the Eucharist, violations of the seal of confession and allegations of the abuse of minors by clergy.

The Archbishop was credited with drawing up the 2010 universal norms that extended the Church's statutes of limitations on reporting cases of sexual abuse and expanded the category of ecclesial crimes to include sexual misconduct with a disabled adult and possession of child pornography. He also led investigations into the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel.

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