SANTIAGO – Malta Archbishop Charles Scicluna began on Tuesday in Chile a series of meetings with witnesses to Bishop Juan Barros’s suspected cover-ups of sexual abuse in his parish, a task assigned him by Pope Francis after a visit to that country in January.
“I wish to express my gratitude to the people who have made themselves available to meet with me over the coming days,” Scicluna said in a brief statement to the media at the Apostolic Nunciature in Santiago.
Jaime Coiro, spokesman for the Chilean Episcopal Conference, said Scicluna’s meetings with people who wish to provide testimony about Bishop Barros began Tuesday morning and will continue until Friday.
“These will be four long days of tiring work. It won’t be just noting down testimonies and statements. People will be talking about things that aren’t easy for them to reveal,” Coiro said.
Pope Francis authorized the archbishop of Malta to investigate reports in Chile against Juan Barros, accused of covering up sexual abuses committed by the influential priest, Fr. Fernando Karadima.
Last month during his visit to Chile, the pope defended Barros, bishop of Osorno and called the accusations against him “calumnies.”
On his flight back to Rome, Francis retracted and asked pardon of all those affected, realizing that “it hurt them” when they were asked for proof and evidence “they can’t possibly have.”
The spokesman for the Chilean Episcopal Conference said the church will not reveal the number or identity of the people who meet with Scicluna to provide information about Barros.
The archbishop of Malta began his mission last Saturday, when on his trip to Chile he made a stopover in New York to hear the testimony of one Juan Carlos Cruz, a Karadima victim who accuses Barros of aiding with the cover-up.
Fr. Fernando Karadima, a parish priest with great influence in certain conservative political circles, was declared by the Vatican in February 2011 to be guilty of sexual abuse and as his penance gave him a lifetime of prayer and penitence.
In November of the same year, the Chilean justice system found the priest guilty of abusing Cruz and two other parishioners in El Bosque parish between 1981 and 1995 when they were minors, though the statute of limitations make those offenses no longer able to be prosecuted.