On Tuesday, Pope Francis decided to send Vatican’s most respected sex crimes expert to Chile to investigate the alleged cover up of sex crimes by Bishop Juan Barros, after his recent visit to Chile was less than heartwarming.
This decision opens a new era for Vatican, which has been struggling for decades to come to terms with clergy abuse, and it might fuel new demands for sanctions against priests who commit sex crimes against children.
Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna will be sent to Chile so as to investigate whether or not Bishop Juan Barros, a protégé of the notorious Rev. Fernando Karadima, was aware of the sex abuse committed.
The Vatican’s investigation comes after Pope Francis was harshly criticized by the media, the victims and the Chilean people for his position over the Barros controversy, as he dismissed the victims’ claims saying that they are “calumny”, due to the lack of concrete evidence. He was rebuked by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, and apologized for demanding proof but retained his original position.
In 2011, the Vatican found Rev. Fernando Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors. There were allegations against him all the way back to the ‘80s, but no concrete evidence came to surface until victims went public in 2010. However, the statute of limitations had passed and he could not be tried for his crimes. As such the only punishment delivered by the Vatican was for him to spend the rest of his life in a convent, a decision which angered the Chileans. The problem arose when in 2015 Pope Francis appointed Juan Barros as a bishop in Southern Chile, who denies fervently knowing Karadima’s actions.
Following the Vatican’s announcement, Barros said he welcomed “with faith and joy” the decision to launch an investigation on the alleged cover-up and prayed that the truth would be uncovered. Karadima’s victims, who are Barros’ main accusers, declined to comment Tuesday on the advice of their lawyers.