Top Vatican abuse investigator goes under the knife in Chile

SANTIAGO – The Vatican’s top abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, has been taken to hospital shortly after his arrival in Chile to investigate a controversial bishop, the country’s worst priestly predator, the Catholic Church announced Wednesday.

Scicluna, who is on a mission to assess evidence against Bishop Juan Barros, accused of witnessing and ignoring abuse by his spiritual mentor Father Fernando Karadima, the country’s worst priestly predator, is undergoing gallbladder surgery in San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago, Chile.

The Maltese priest is set to meet Karadima victims who the pope admitted he “wounded” by saying there was no evidence against Barros during his recent Chile trip. Several men have accused Barros of protecting his former mentor, Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing them and others when they were boys.

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Scicluna, 58, had already interviewed one of Karadima’s victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, in New York on his way to Chile. He began hearing the testimonies of abuse victims in Chile on Tuesday, before he fell ill.

Jaime Coiro, a spokesman for the Catholic bishop’s conference, said that Scicluna’s medical condition is not serious “but neither are we dealing with a simple ailment.”

Laparoscopic gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) is a procedure used to remove the gallbladder and gallstones. Most patients are able to return to their normal activities seven to 10 days after the surgery.

Scicluna, touted as one of the Vatican’s most experienced investigators, was dispatched to Chile to take part in the investigations into Bishop Juan Barros, who is alleged to have covered up crimes against children.

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“I have come to Chile, sent by Pope Francis, to gather useful information concerning Monsignor Juan Barros,” Scicluna said in a short statement to reporters after the meetings. “I want to express my gratitude to the people who have expressed their willingness to meet me in the next few days.

Victims’ testimonies would continue “as planned” to be heard by a legal assistant to Scicluna, Jordi Bertomeu, until Friday, according to Church spokesman Jaime Coiro.

The conclusions of the investigation are to be submitted to Pope Francis, who will then decide whether to open a canonical investigation against Barros.