ROME — The Vatican’s sex-crimes expert is changing plans and will fly to New York to take in-person testimony from a Chilean sex abuse victim after his pleas to be heard by Pope Francis were previously ignored, the victim told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The switch from a planned Skype interview came after the AP reported that Francis received a letter in 2015 from Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest. Cruz wrote the pope that one of the priest’s proteges, Bishop Juan Barros, was present for his abuse and did nothing, and questioned Francis’s decision to make him a diocesan bishop.
Barros has denied seeing or knowing of any abuse committed by Father Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Francis sparked an outcry during his recent visit to Chile by strongly defending Barros, describing the accusations against him as slander, and saying he never heard from any victims about Barros’ behavior.
The AP report, published Monday, belied the pope’s claim that the victims had never come forward.
Even before the report, the Vatican last week tapped Archbishop Charles Scicluna to go to Santiago to take testimony from victims and others with information about the Barros affair.
Originally, Scicluna was to interview Cruz via Skype since he lives in Philadelphia.
But Scicluna called Cruz on Tuesday, “on behalf of the pope,” and asked if they could meet in person, Cruz told the AP. Their meeting is scheduled for Feb. 17 in New York, where Cruz has to be for work that day anyway, Cruz said.
From there, Scicluna will travel onto Santiago as originally planned.
“I think the Vatican’s change of attitude is due to the tremors caused by The Associated Press article,” Cruz said. He said he appreciated Scicluna’s gesture as a sign that the Vatican was taking his testimony seriously.
“I see a good disposition, that they’re not only taking my testimony seriously but also that of all those who are desperate living with the anguish of sexual abuse and a church that does nothing for them,” he told the AP.
Scicluna declined to comment.
For more than a decade, Scicluna was the Vatican’s lead sex crimes investigator, and famously went up against the Vatican hierarchy to sanction the serial pedophile Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. For decades, Maciel was protected by the highest officials of the Catholic Church who blocked an investigation into his crimes.
Once Scicluna was allowed to pursue it, he traveled all over — including to New York — to interview Maciel’s victims, preferring face-to-face testimony and to prevent victims already wounded by the Church from having to travel to come to him. Maciel, who raped and molested his seminarians, was sentenced to the same sanction as Karadima: A lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes, the typical Church punishment given to elderly abusers.
The Vatican has said Scicluna in his new mission is tasked with “listening to anyone who has expressed the desire to provide elements in their possession” about Barros.
Francis sparked the Barros uproar in 2015 when he appointed him bishop of Osorno, Chile, over the opposition of many Chilean bishops. They were worried about the fallout from the Karadima scandal, which cost the Catholic Church much of its credibility in Chile. Karadima was responsible for cultivating dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops — including Barros — but he also kissed and fondled young boys in his community.
Francis vetoed the bishops’ proposal that Barros and two other bishops trained by Karadima resign and take a year sabbatical, saying that if he accepted their resignations it would amount to an admission of their guilt. Francis said there was no proof they had done anything wrong.
But even members of Francis’s own Commission for the Protection of Minors expressed concerns that if Barros didn’t recognize the homo-eroticized environment of Karadima’s community as abusive, he wouldn’t be able to detect abuse when he was a diocesan bishop, and responsible for protecting minors from pedophiles like his mentor.
Four commission members flew to Rome in April 2015 to raise their concerns — and hand-deliver Cruz’s letter to the pope.
Eva Vergara reported from Santiago, Chile.