(CNN) — Pope Francis is sending investigators back to Chile to look into historical child abuse and accusations a bishop covered up crimes against minors, the Vatican said Thursday.
Francis said the church should be ashamed of its treatment of victims, and must move past the historical culture of abuse and secrecy.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, one of the Vatican’s top prosecutors for sex abuse, and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu will carry out investigations in Osorno over abuse by Chilean priest Father Fernando Karadima and his followers.
Karadima was found guilty of child sex abuse by the Vatican in 2011. Victims said Osorno Bishop Juan Barros, who Francis appointed in 2015 over local residents’ objections, covered up Karadima’s crimes.
Francis had initially discounted the survivors’ testimony against Barros, and defended him strenuously for three years, calling accusations against him “calumny.”
Barros has denied knowing about what he called the “serious abuses” of Karadima and has said he never approved or participated in those actions.
In the statement Thursday, the Vatican said the Pope will send a personally-written letter to the Chilean church, addressing the issue, and will also meet with Chilean abuse victims in Rome over the weekend.
Francis said one of the church’s “main faults and omissions” was in “not knowing how to listen to victims,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
Because of that, he said, “partial conclusions were drawn, which lacked crucial elements for a healthy and clear discernment,” adding he felt “shame” over his past actions.
Francis has previously apologized for his own “grave errors” in handling the Chilean sex abuse scandal.
Allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church stretch across multiple countries with large Catholic populations, including Austria, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and perhaps most famously, the United States, where children accused more than 4,000 priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, according to a report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In May, Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted of covering up sexual abuse and faces up to two years in prison. He is the highest ranking Catholic official to be convicted of concealing others’ crimes. He is due to be sentenced on June 19.
As part of his defense, Wilson’s legal team argued that as child sexual abuse was not considered a serious crime in the 1970s, it was not worthy of being reported to authorities.
Another Australian priest, Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell, is currently on trial for multiple charges of historical abuse.
Vatican announces ‘healing’ mission to Chile
31 May 2018
Pope Francis is sending the Vatican investigators who conducted an inquiry into clerical sexual abuse in Chile back to the country on a healing mission to the troubled Diocese of Osorno.
The Vatican announced on Thursday that Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Mgr Jordi Bertomeu, an official on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are being sent to the Chilean diocese to try and advance “the process of reparation and healing of victims of abuse.”
The Bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros, has been accused of covering up abuse.
Francis is also due to send a letter “addressed to the whole People of God” in Chile via the president of the country’s bishops’ conference, the director of the Holy See press office explained in a statement,.
The Church in Chile is reeling from a clerical sexual abuse scandal, with the country’s bishops offering to resign ‘en masse’ following a summit with the Pope earlier this month.
Francis’ decision to send a letter to the people in Chile has echoes of the one sent to the Catholics of Ireland by Benedict XVI in the aftermath the abuse scandal in the country.
While it is not clear what the Pope will say in the letter, it is likely he will set out priorities for the future of the Chilean church, something he believes that lay Catholics need to play a central part in.
The country’s sexual abuse scandal burst into the public eye following the Pope’s decision to appoint Bishop Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno in 2015, a move which sparked outcry due to accusations that he turned a blind eye to abuse committed by his mentor Fr Fernando Karadima.
The priest was found guilty by a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys although he never faced civilian justice because of a statute of limitations.
Barros’ appointment, however, was met with public outcry and the new bishop had to battle through crowds of protesters during his installation ceremony.
Three years later, during a visit to Chile in January of this year, the Pope causes deep upset to survivors by describing their claims of a Barros cover-up as “calumny” and arguing there was no proof the bishop knew about the abuse.
Since then, Francis has performed a volte-face. He sent Archbishop Scicluna and Mgr Bertomeu to Chile to investigate and after receiving their 2,300 page report issued a letter to the country’s bishops apologising for making “serious mistakes”. The problem of abuse in the country, it was now clear, went far beyond just the case of Bishop Barros, and the Pope admitted to having received “untruthful and unbalanced information”.
Francis then invited three prominent Chilean sex abuse survivors to stay with him at his home in the Vatican so he could apologise to them personally and hear their recommendations for change. Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors, explained the Pope not only said sorry but admitted that he, Francis, had personally been “part of the problem”.
A few days later he hosted the Chilean bishops for three days of talks where he issued them with a detailed and stinging assessment of the problems in the Church in Chile. Pulling no punches, the Pope said clericalist, elitist and authoritarian attitudes had been allowed to prevail, and the Church had lost sight of its mission. “Sin became the centre of attention,” Francis told them adding they now needed to put Christ to the heart of their mission and start to become a prophetic church.
Following the resignation offer by the Chilean bishops, many are expecting a complete restructuring of the Chilean hierarchy, starting with Bishop Barros who is unlikely to remain in office for long.
While the Pope says removing bishops from office may be needed, he also believes this would be not sufficient to solve the abuse crisis in Chile and instead they needed to get to the root of the problems.
By sending Archbishop Scicluna and Mgr Bertomeu back to Osorno Francis is avoiding a quick-fix solution which would see Barros removed but then see business as usual returning.
The Maltese archbishop is a former chief prosecutor at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the department which handles the Church’s internal legal procedures of priests accused of sex abuse.
While at the doctrinal congregation Scicluna undertook an investigation into the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Fr Marcial Maciel, a powerful and well-connected figure who was protected by figures at the highest levels of the Church. Maciel was later revealed to be an abuser of children and a drug addict whom Benedict XVI ordered to live a life of prayer and penance.
The news of his latest mission came as the Pope prepares to welcome another group of sexual abuse victims at his home in the Vatican, the Casa Santa Marta. From Friday 1 June until Sunday 3 June he will host five priests who have been victim of Karadima’s “abuses of power, conscience and sex” along with two priests who have helped the victims and two lay people.
Aged 87 and living in a nursing home, Fr Karadima has always denied wrongdoing.
Press Office: statement on Chile abuse case
31 May 2018
Pope Francis is to send a personally-written letter to the President of the Chilean Catholic Bishops Conference, addressed to all the People of God, as he had promised the Bishops. The announcement was made by the Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Greg Burke, in a statement released on Thursday.
The Vatican communique also noted that the Pope will host a second group of clerical abuse victims from Chile at the Santa Marta residence from 1-3 June. It said that Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, will return to Chile as part of their ongoing mission to reach out to the victims of abuse by the Chilean priest Father Fernando Karadima and his followers and carry out further investigations into the case.
During the weekend Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a series of private meetings with the abuse victims from Chile together with two priests accompanying them who have provided spiritual support to the victims.