1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Pope sends sex abuse envoy to Chile amid uproar

January 30, 2018

The Vatican has decided to dispatch Charles Scicluna, an expert on sex abuse scandals, to Chile over allegations against Bishop Juan Barros. Pope Francis prompted outrage when he dismissed the case as "slander."

Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna in 2012
Scicluna has spearheaded high-profile abuse cases in the pastImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/G. Borgia

Metropolitan Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna will travel to Chile "to listen to those who have expressed the will to present evidence" against Chilean bishop Juan Barros, the Vatican said in a statement on Tuesday.

The 58-year-old Canadian-born prelate holds a senior position in the committee investigating sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. The move follows "the recent arrival of some information" on the child abuse cases that apparently involve Barros, the Church said.

While the bishop is not directly blamed for abusing children, some victims and witnesses claim that he covered up the sex crimes committed by his influential mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, despite personally witnessing some of the incidents.

The ongoing scandal has prompted angry protests and attacks on Catholic churches in the dominantly Catholic country.

Pope Francis asks Chileans for forgiveness

Read more: Chilean Catholics protest bishop over alleged cover-up of child abuse

'It's all slander'

Earlier this month, Pope Francis visited Chile where he met with abuse survivors and asked forgiveness over the "irreparable damage" caused to them by the Catholic priests. Just days later, however, the 81-year-old pontiff emphatically voiced his support for Barros.

"The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him," the pope told a reporter while still in Chile. "It is all slander. Is that clear?" 

Read more: Pope Francis questions victims' claims against Bishop Juan Barros

The statement reignited the controversy around the case, adding to earlier reports that the pope personally intervened to stop disciplinary measurers against Barros. In a rare public rebuke, Cardinal and papal advisor Sean O'Malley said Pope Francis' words were a "great source of pain for survivors of sexual abuse."

Pope Francis is greeted by fans, protesters in Chile

Pope backtracks, but not fully

Last week, the pope again apologized to abuse survivors and said his comments amounted to "a slap in their faces." At the same time, he once again affirmed his belief that Barros was innocent.

"I can't condemn him because I don't have evidence and because I am convinced he is innocent," the pope said.

The affair has shaken the favorable image of the Argentinian-born pope, who pledged "zero tolerance" for abusive priests after taking office in 2013. Despite this promise, Vatican's high-profile committee for protecting minors faces an uncertain future after two lay members and abuse survivors resigned last year. Pope Francis' initiative to set up a separate tribunal for sexual abuse has not yet got off the ground.

dj/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)