ROME – Pope Francis is sending two sex abuse investigators back to Chile, this time exclusively to a diocese led by a bishop accused of cover ups, with what the Vatican says is a mission to “advance the process of reparation and healing” for victims in a country that is seeing new scandals come to light almost every day.
The Vatican announced Thursday that Francis is sending Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu to the small southern diocese of Osorno. No date for their new mission has been announced.
Earlier this year, Francis sent Scicluna, the Vatican’s former top prosecutor for sex abuse crimes under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and Bertomeu, an official of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Chile to listen to those who “manifested their will to make known elements they possess” against Bishop Juan Barros, appointed by the Argentine pontiff in 2015 to Osorno.
Barros is one of four Chilean bishops accused of covering up for pedophile priest Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors. He’s also been found guilty of abuse of power and conscience.
Karadima ran a parish in Santiago known as El Bosque, from where he ministered to Chile’s elite. Some 45 priests came out of that parish, including Barros.
According to the Vatican statement, Francis will also send a pastoral letter to the president of Chile’s bishops’ conference, addressed to “all the People of God, as he had promised the bishops.”
Back in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI did something similar with the Irish Church: After meeting with the Irish bishops in Rome, he sent a pastoral letter addressed to all Catholics of Ireland.
In it, he wrote: “You have suffered grievously, and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen.”
In 2015, Francis’s decision to transfer Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno caused an uproar.
The pope’s controversial decision to keep Barros in his post, accusing his accusers of spreading calumny and critics of being led by the nose by leftists, ended in April with Francis acknowledging “serious errors,” inviting three of Karadimas’ victims to Rome in late April, and summoning all the country’s bishops in May, who subsequently handed in their resignations pending acceptance, and finally, calling yet another group of victims to Rome this weekend.
On the first day of the encounter with the Chilean bishops, the pontiff handed them a 10-page document which, even though it was supposed to be confidential, was leaked to the press. In it, Francis speaks about the failures of the local Church, identifying concrete crimes related to sexual abuse and cover up, though not the names of the perpetrators.
Among other things, Francis accused members of Chile’s hierarchy of destroying evidence in cases of clerical sexual abuse, pressuring Church lawyers to minimize accusations, moving priests with credible accusations of abuse to other dioceses, and “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophile priests.
On Friday, a group of nine people, including seven priests- five of whom are victims of Karadima, and two who have been helping the survivors for the past two decades- and two laity, will arrive in Rome, and meet with Francis in private as a group.
Each has been asked to prepare a presentation of some 10 minutes, to kick-start a dialogue. They will be staying in the pope’s residence as his guests until Tuesday, when they fly back to Chile.
Since the bishops have been back in Chile, 14 priests of one diocese were suspended, accused of forming part of a clan that sexually abused minors; a former nun has charged she was sexually abused by one of her superiors, another nun; and new allegations have arisen against Father Christian Precht, who had been suspended for five years for abusing young adults.
New allegations by victims of the Marist brothers signal that Precht abused minors in at least one facility run by the order too.
It’s also been made public that Father Óscar Muñoz Toledo, a former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, was removed from that position on Jan. 2, days before Francis’s visit to the country, after he reported himself for sexual abuse.
It’s now known he sexually abused some of his nephews, who were minors at the time. In effect, the man tasked with taking the statements of some of Karadima’s victims was, at the same time, sexually abusing children himself.