Pope Sends Investigators to Chilean Diocese in Latest Move on Abuse Crisis

The Holy Father’s decision to investigate the Diocese of Osorno comes on the heels of Vatican confirmation of a systemic cover-up of sexual abuse by Chile’s hierarchy.

Pope Francis.
Pope Francis. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Vatican City — The Vatican announced Thursday that Pope Francis will send Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu to the diocese of Osorno to help with the process of healing in Chile, and will issue a pastoral letter on the Chilean church’s sexual abuse crisis.

A May 31 statement from Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in order to “advance the process of healing and reparation for victims of abuse” in Chile, Malta Archbishop Scicluna, and Msgr. Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will travel to Osorno in the coming days.

The Diocese of Osorno has been in the international spotlight the past few years after the controversial appointment of Bishop Juan Barros in 2015, who has been accused of covering up the crimes of his longtime friend Father Fernando Karadima, one of Chile’s most notorious abusers.

In 2011, Karadima was found guilty by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of sexually abusing several minors during the 1980s and 1990s, and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

In addition to Scicluna and Bertomeu’s visit, Burke also announced that Pope Francis will send a letter to the president of the Chilean Bishops Conference, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, addressed to the People of God.

Scicluna and Bertomeu traveled to both the United States and Santiago, Chile in February to investigate the accusations against Barros, as well as other cases of clerical sexual abuse in the country.

The Maltese archbishop is widely recognized as the Vatican’s top investigator on the clerical sexual abuse. In 2015, he was named by the Pope to oversee the team in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

After seeing the findings of Scicluna’s 2,300 page report based on the February investigation in Chile, Pope Francis – who had initially backed Barros, calling the accusations against him “calumny” – issued a major “mea culpa,” in an April 8 letter to Chile’s bishops, apologizing for having made “serious errors” in judgment of the situation due to “a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

Shortly after, Pope Francis held both private and group meetings with three of Karadima’s most outspoken victims – Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo – at the Vatican from April 27-29.

Two weeks later, the pope met with all of Chile’s bishops, many of whom have also been accused of cover-up, at the Vatican to address the crisis.

During the May 15-17 meeting, Francis criticized the 34 bishops present for systematic cover-up of clerical abuse in Chile, and urged them to refocus, putting Christ and the Gospel back at the center of their mission.

The gathering concluded with all of Chile’s active bishops offering a written resignation to Francis, which he will either accept or deny. So far, there has been no news of the pope’s decision.

This weekend, Pope Francis will meet a second round of Chilean abuse victims at the Vatican, consisting of five priests and two laypersons who suffered either sexual abuse or abuse of power or conscience by Karadima, and two priests who have accompanied the victims.

Expected to arrive to Rome Friday, the group of nine will have Mass with Pope Francis Saturday morning, and are expected to have both individual and private meetings with the Pope.

Benedict XVI attempted a similar move after the clerical abuse crisis in Ireland reached new heights in 2009. He summoned the country’s bishops to Rome in December of that year, and in March 2010 issued a pastoral letter to all Catholic faithful in Ireland apologizing for the Church’s role in the crisis, and promising action, including the apostolic visitation of several dioceses.