Pope Francis said on Tuesday he would send to Chile a top aide to review evidence against a local bishop, Juan Barros, suspected of protecting a notorious child-abusing priest.
The controversy overshadowed the pontiff’s recent trip to Chile, during which he angered clergy sex abuse victims by insisting they had no “proof” against Barros.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, an expert on clergy sex abuse scandals, will fly to Santiago de Chile “to listen to those who have expressed the will to present evidence,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The Vatican said the decision to despatch Scicluna, who holds a senior position at the Vatican’s internal discipline body, was taken “following the recent arrival of some information” on the case.
The Chilean Catholic Church was hit years ago with the scandal of Father Fernando Karadima, an influential priest from Santiago de Chile whom the Vatican found guilty of child molestation in 2011.
Bishop Barros, 61, was one of dozens of Chilean priests trained by Karadima, and some victims say he witnessed abuses, but never reported them. Barros denies this.
On Jan. 18, Francis told Chilean journalists: “The day I’m presented with proof against Bishop Barros, I will see […] There’s not a single proof against him, it’s all slander.”
Four days later, on the flight taking him back to Rome, the pontiff apologized for the way in which he expressed himself, but confirmed he believed in Barros’ innocence.