Archbishop Scicluna hospitalized in Chile amid abuse investigation

By Elise Harris

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Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is currently in Chile investigating allegations of abuse cover-up by a local bishop, was hospitalized Wednesday and underwent gallbladder surgery, though he is expected to make a full recovery.

The Archdiocese of Malta announced the news in a brief statement Feb. 21, saying Scicluna was admitted to the San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna had been experiencing pain since last week. The spokesman, Deacon Jaime Coiro, said the archbishop has come out of surgery and is in stable condition. His recovery time in hospital is expected to take between two and three days.

Scicluna arrived in Santiago Feb. 19 to interview victims of sexual abuse and those opposed to the 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros as Bishop of Osorno, whom they say covered up the crimes of his longtime friend Fr. Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

In addition to heading the Diocese of Malta, Scicluna in 2015 was named by the Pope to oversee the doctrinal team charged with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He served as the congregation’s Promoter of Justice for 17 years, beginning in 1995, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

Prior to arriving in Santiago, Scicluna stopped in New York to interview Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima's most high-profile victims and one of Barros' most vocal opponents.

Barros’ appointment to Osorno was met with harsh criticism and continues to be a source of contention for activists and abuse victims who accuse the bishop of covering up the crimes of Karadima.

Barros has repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing of the abuse, and Pope Francis has backed him, saying during a visit to Chile last month that accusations against the bishop were “calumny,” as he has received no evidence backing the allegations and no victims had come forward.

However, shortly after returning from his Jan. 15-18 visit to Chile, the Vatican announced that Francis had named Scicluna as his envoy to interview several witnesses who came forward claiming to have evidence of the cover-up.

The case then took another complicated turn when Cruz made a statement in an interview with the Associated Press saying he had sent the Pope an eight-page letter in April 2015 claiming that Barros had not only witnessed Karadima's abuse, but had at times participated.

He had given the letter to four members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, who in turn handed it to the head of the commission Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who was to deliver it to the Pope.

News of the letter and the Pope's statement in Chile that no victims had come forward raised questions as to whether or not Francis had received the letter, or whether he read it if it did in fact reach his desk.

After leaving Malta Feb. 15 to meet with Cruz in person in New York, Scicluna then went to Santiago Feb. 19 to interview more witnesses related to the Barros case. He is scheduled to return to Malta Feb. 25.

According to the Chilean bishops’ conference, Scicluna's surgery has not impacted the investigation, and the interviews “will continue as planned,” being carried out instead by Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, an official from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who accompanied Scicluna as notary for the case. In turn, another priest traveling with two has been asked to act as notary.

In their statement, the Chilean bishops’ conference voiced their hope that Scicluna will have a “quick recovery.” The archbishop, they noted, voiced his desire to meet with some of the witnesses as soon as he is able.

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