Vatican opens inquiry on new accusations about Bishop Barros

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis asked a longtime expert in handling abuse allegations to gather new information in Chile concerning Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.

The pope was sending Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta to review the matter after the pope received "some information recently with regards to the case" of Bishop Barros, the Vatican said in a communique Jan. 30.

Pope Francis decided to send the archbishop to the Chilean capital "to listen to those who expressed a willingness to submit information in their possession," the communique said.

Archbishop Scicluna is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years' experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

Some have accused Bishop Barros of having been aware of abuse perpetrated by his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. The priest was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.

Despite the claims against Bishop Barros, Pope Francis named him to head the Diocese of Osorno in 2015, saying he was "personally convinced" of the bishop's innocence after the case was investigated twice with no evidence emerging at the time.

The pope told reporters Jan. 21 that while "covering up abuse is an abuse in itself," if he had punished Bishop Barros without moral certainty, "I would be committing the crime of a bad judge."

Archbishop Scicluna has often been called to look into allegations involving high-profile clergy. For example, after years of allegations about abuse committed by Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, in 2005, the Vatican sent then-Msgr. Scicluna to listen to his alleged victims. Several months later, Pope Benedict XVI ordered Father Maciel to "a life reserved to prayer and penance, renouncing any public ministry."

In 2014, then-Auxiliary Bishop Scicluna was sent to Scotland to collect testimony for a formal investigation against Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who had resigned in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct. In 2015, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal O'Brien's decision to renounce all "duties and privileges" associated with being a cardinal, and the Catholic Church in Scotland announced he would "be reduced to a strictly private life with no further participation in any public, religious or civil events."