Pope sends sex crimes expert to investigate Chilean bishop

SANTIAGO – Pope Francis has appointed the Vatican’s most respected sex crimes expert to investigate allegations that Bishop Juan Barros covered up clergy crimes against minors in Chile.

The Vatican said Tuesday that Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna would travel to Chile “to listen to those who have expressed the desire to provide elements” about the case of Bishop Juan Barros of the Chilean city of Osorno.

Scicluna is the Vatican’s top investigator on child abuse, having previously served as Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

He has notable reputation within the Church, having previously uncovered evidence of sexual abuse against the late founder of the conservative religious order the Legionaries of Christ.

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Bishop Barros has been accused of protecting his former mentor, Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing teenage boys over many years.

Karadima denies the allegations, and Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

Just last week, the pope told reporters abroad that he was sure Barros was innocent and that the Vatican had received no concrete evidence against him.

The issue haunted Francis after he told a Chilean journalist during his visit that the accusations against Barros were “slander” and that he would only speak out if he had “proof” against Barros. Francis later apologized for having demanded proof of victims, but stood by his belief that the accusations against Barros were “calumny.”

Francis seemed unaware that Karadima’s victims had placed Barros at the scene, and were the source of the accusations.