Pope Francis on January 30, 2018, said Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta will go to Chile to examine the case involving Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile. Archbishop Scicluna also is President of the College for the examination of appeals (in matters of delicta graviora) at the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The decision to send Archbishop Scicluna to Chile comes “following recently received information regarding the case,” according to the Holy See Press Office. The nature of that information was not disclosed but the press statement said the archbishop would “hear those who have expressed their willingness to submit elements in their possession”.
Bishop Barros has been alleged to have taken part in covering up the sex crimes of Fr. Fernando Karadima. Fr. Karadima had been a popular priest in Chile, but was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing minors and sent to a life of “prayer and penance” – and prohibited from public exercise of his priestly ministry.
Controversy grew in 2015 when Pope Francis appointed Bishop Barros to lead the diocese of Osorno, triggering protests by some clerics in Chile and a riot during the bishop’s installation service. The appointment and the Pope’s defense of Bishop Barros became an issue during the Holy Father’s January 15-22, 2018, apostolic journey to Chile and Peru.
Early in the trip, when the Pope was asked about the case, he said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Fr. Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”
These comments spurred criticism in Chile. And Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, who also leads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, noted the Pontiff’s response could be discouraging and could hurt victims; the Pope stressed that while he does believe in “zero tolerance,” he also will not cast stones until there is evidence. Cardinal O’Malley’s Statement
The sexual abuse scandals in Chile had caused many to be very skeptical of the Catholic Church and had led to many protests, even violent ones, leading up to and during the Pontiff’s visit. The Pontiff went on to apologize to victims of clerical sex abuse, acknowledging he had “wounded many” in his comments, noting having done so “pains” him.
Speaking with reporters on the January 22, 2018, return flight from Peru to Rome, the Pope said, “I now realize that my expression was an unfortunate one.” While apologizing for his choice of words, the Pope still stressed: “I can’t condemn him because I don’t have evidence and because I am convinced he is innocent.”
Unless “credible evidence” is brought against him, Francis said, Barros would remain in his place. In these circumstances, the findings of Archbishop Scicluna will be widely anticipated.
Archbishop Scicluna served as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The Promoter of Justice is often referred to as the CDF’s “chief prosecutor” and is charged with investigating canon-law offenses that are regarded as being the most serious, including crimes against the sanctity of the Eucharist, violations of the seal of confession and allegations of the abuse of minors by clergy.
The Archbishop was credited with constructing the 2010 universal norms that extended the Church’s statutes of limitations on reporting cases of sexual abuse and expanded the category of ecclesial crimes to include sexual misconduct with a disabled adult and possession of child pornography. He also led investigations into the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel.