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Vatican team investigating abuse cover-ups to return to Chile

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IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — To promote healing after reports of sexual abuse and cover-ups, Pope Francis will send Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos back to Chile.  

Both will visit the Diocese of Osorno “with the aim of advancing the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims,” the Vatican said in a statement May 31.

Abuse survivors have alleged that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno — then a priest — had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

Archbishop Scicluna, who is president of a board of review handling abuse cases within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Father Bertomeu, an official of the doctrinal congregation, will depart “in the next few days,” the Vatican said.

The Vatican also announced that “the pope will send the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference a letter written personally by him and addressed to all the people of God, as he had promised the bishops.”

During his visit to Chile in January, the pope sparked controversy when he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.”

He later apologized to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later, the pope sent Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

Not all of the 64 witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers’ school.

Their investigation resulted in a 2,300-page report that was given to the pope.

After reading their report, Pope Francis apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis and acknowledged he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”

After a “careful reading” of the testimonies, “I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame,” the pope said in an April 11 letter to the bishops of Chile.

He also summoned the bishops to Rome May 15-17, which resulted in most of the Chilean bishops offering their resignations to the pope.

In a document leaked by Chilean news channel Tele 13 before the meeting with the bishops, Pope Francis said he was concerned by reports regarding “the attitude with which some of you bishops have reacted in the face of present and past events.”

The pope also said he was “perplexed and ashamed” after he received confirmation that undue pressure by church officials was placed on “those who carry out criminal proceedings” and that church officials had destroyed compromising documents.

Those actions, Pope Francis said, “give evidence to an absolute lack of respect for the canonical procedure and, even more so, are reprehensible practices that must be avoided in the future.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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