ROME — The Vatican’s sex abuse investigator has agreed to meet with a delegation of lay Catholics and priests from the Chilean diocese of Osorno who have opposed the appointment of a bishop strongly backed by Pope Francis, according to an email seen Monday by The Associated Press.
The Vatican’s embassy in Santiago set the meeting for Feb. 21 in Santiago and asked the Osorno group to select no more than five people to meet with the investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
In the email, the Vatican’s ambassador also asked delegation members to send a “detailed” document to him by Friday, five days before the meeting, outlining what they intend to tell Scicluna. The ambassador, or nuncio, said the document would help Scicluna in his fact-finding mission about Bishop Juan Barros.
But Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for the Osorno laity, expressed concern and said he would only provide general points to the embassy ahead of time. He accused the embassy of long refusing to acknowledge or respond to their complaints about Barros, who is accused by Osorno laity of being unfit and by victims of a prominent Chilean predator priest of having witnessed their abuse and done nothing.
“During these last three years, it has been the nuncio who has blocked all attempts at dialogue, not just with the clergy but with the laity,” Claret told AP.
He said he would, however, provide detailed information directly to Scicluna, who was tasked with taking testimony about Barros after Francis sparked outrage in Chile by strongly defending him and saying accusations against him were slander.
Barros was a protege of Father Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually and psychologically abusing minors in his Santiago parish community. Victims testified to both Vatican and Chilean prosecutors about how Karadima would kiss and fondle them, and masturbate them behind closed doors.
One of Karadima’s most outspoken victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, has said Barros — then a young priest — witnessed the abuse and did nothing, and today denies what others have testified to about a toxic and homoeroticized environment in Karadima’s El Bosque community.
Barros has repeatedly denied seeing any abuse or covering it up.
Barros has been a bishop since 1995, but his 2015 appointment to Osorno sparked outrage after the Karadima scandal so damaged 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 amiss in El Bosque could be trusted to protect Osorno’s children today.
Vergara reported from Santiago, Chile.