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Marie Collins welcomes Pope’s decision to investigate Chilean bishop

By Sarah Mac Donald - 31 January, 2018

Archbishop Charles Scicluna has been tasked with examining new information in the case of Bishop Juan Barros who has been accused by victims of Fr Fernando Karadima of covering up the priest's sexual abuse.

Marie Collins

Clerical abuse survivor Marie Collins has welcomed Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to investigate a Chilean bishop accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse.

She described Archbishop Scicluna as having “a good history in this area”.

The Maltese prelate, who was formerly the Vatican’s chief prosecutor, collected testimony from the victims of the notoriously corrupt founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel, who abused junior seminarians, fathered children with a number of women and was addicted to drugs.

The late Pope St John Paul II was a fan of Maciel’s arch conservativism and feted the Mexican and his dysfunctional order for years.

But in 2006, Benedict XVI removed Maciel from ministry and ordered him to a life of prayer and penance. The Legionaries of Christ then underwent a major overhaul at the instigation of the Vatican.

Victims of another ‘charismatic’ priest, Fr Fernando Karadima, claim Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno in Chile, who was a protégé of the priest’s, was aware of Karadima’s abuse and may even have witnessed an incident.

In February 2011, the Vatican found Fr Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors and ordered him to a “life of prayer and penitence” and to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.”

There was uproar in the diocese of Osorno in 2015 when Pope Francis announced that Barros had been appointed to lead the diocese.

In 2010, Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and José Andres Murillo publicly accused Karadima of having abused them when they were teenagers.

During the course of the investigation it emerged that allegations of abuse had been levelled against Karadima as far back as the 1980s, but nothing had ever come of them.

While their case against Karadima was dropped, it was due to the expiration of the statute of limitations and not for lack of evidence.

They have accused Bishop Barros of knowing about and covering up Karadima’s abuse. However, Barros has consistently denied any knowledge of the abuse before 2010.

On his visit to Chile earlier this month, Pope Francis was questioned by journalists in Iquique about his support for the Bishop of Osorno.

“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny. Is that clear?” the Pope told reporters. His response provoked outrage among survivors of clerical abuse.

Asked by journalists on the return flight to Rome why he appeared ready to believe Bishop Barros but not the abuse survivors, the Pope repeatedly said, “There is no evidence” and added, “I am convinced he is innocent.” Although he said he would accept any new evidence brought forward with an “open heart”.

In a surprise move on Monday, a Vatican statement announced: “Following recently received information regarding the case of Msgr Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, Bishop of Osorno (Chile), the Holy Father Francis has arranged for Msgr Charles J. Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta and President of the College for the examination of appeals (in matters of delicta graviora) at the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to go to Santiago de Chile to hear those who have expressed their willingness to submit elements in their possession.”

Marie Collins, who resigned from the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) last March over curial resistance to reform and bishops’ accountability, tweeted that she hoped Archbishop Scicluna would talk to survivors of Karadima still in Chile and to Juan Carlos Cruz who lives and works in the USA.

She said it was “a pity the Pope did not do this before making his recent comments”.

However, she acknowledged that it was “good he has now looked anew and taken this step”.

She said she hoped Archbishop Scicluna would be able to do a thorough investigation in Chile.

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