SANTIAGO, Chile — The Vatican’s sex abuse investigator on Tuesday began a series of meetings in Chile with victims and others who have opposed the appointment of a bishop accused of covering up for the country’s most notorious pedophile priest.
Pope Francis has strongly backed Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring the abuse of young parishioners by Father Fernando Karadima, who was removed from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” in 2010.
The Chilean conference of bishops said that Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna will also talk to a delegation of lay Catholics and priests from the Chilean diocese of Osorno during four days of meetings.
The conference did not provide the names of the victims to protect their privacy, but it said Scicluna will be meeting both with people who reached out, as well as those that he demanded to interview.
He also said he will exclusively be gathering information on Barros.
On Saturday, Scicluna met in New York with Juan Carlos Cruz, a key victim in the Chilean sex abuse scandal.
Cruz said that Scicluna told him that he would gather all the evidence and testimony from victims in the Barros case and speak directly to Francis about it. He also said that the conversation was not exclusively about Barros, but also about the alleged role that several other bishops as well as Chilean Cardinals Francisco Javier Errazuriz and Ricardo Ezzati played in the cover-up.
The cardinals have all publicly denied any wrongdoing, and Barros has also denied seeing or knowing of any abuse.
Scicluna met with James Hamilton and will meet on Wednesday with Jose Andres Murillo, who along with Cruz have denounced Karadima and the role that Barros allegedly played in covering up the abuses. He will also talk to three priests who worked for Barros.
“I hope the cover up in the church in Santiago by Errazuriz, Ezzati and several other bishops is evident,” Hamilton said after he left his meeting with Scicluna.
Hamilton said the information transmitted to the pope by these cardinals did not reflect what happened in Chile and this affected Francis’s visit to the country.
“It is the moment for the dirt to start coming out from under the rug,” he said.
Barros has been a bishop since 1995, but his 2015 appointment to Osorno by Francis caused outrage after the Karadima scandal eroded the Catholic Church’s credibility in Chile. He has faced protests in Osorno by priests and lay Catholics who question how someone who says he never saw anything suspicious at the parish could be trusted to protect Osorno’s children today.