VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s sex-crimes expert is changing plans and will fly to New York to take in-person testimony from a Chilean sex abuse victim after his pleas to be heard by Pope Francis were previously ignored, the victim said Wednesday.
The switch from a planned video interview came after the Associated Press reported that Francis had received a letter in 2015 from Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest. Cruz wrote the pope that one of the priest’s proteges, Bishop Juan Barros, was present during the abuse and did nothing. Cruz questioned Francis’s decision to make him a diocesan bishop.
Barros has denied seeing or knowing of any abuse committed by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest penalized by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Francis sparked an outcry during his recent visit to Chile by strongly defending Barros, describing the accusations against him as slander and saying he had never heard from any victims about Barros’ behavior. The AP report, published Monday, belied the pope’s claim that the victims had never come forward.
Even before the report, the Vatican last week tapped Archbishop Charles Scicluna to go to Santiago to take testimony from victims and others with information about the Barros affair.
Originally, Scicluna was to interview Cruz via Skype since he lives in Philadelphia. But Scicluna called Cruz on Tuesday, “on behalf of the pope,” and asked if they could meet in person, Cruz said. Their meeting is scheduled for Feb. 17 in New York, where Cruz has to be for work, Cruz said.
Cruz said he appreciated Scicluna’s gesture as a sign that the Vatican was taking his testimony seriously.
“I see a good disposition, that they’re not only taking my testimony seriously but also that of all those who are desperate living with the anguish of sexual abuse and a church that does nothing for them,” he told the AP.
Scicluna declined to comment.
Francis sparked the Barros uproar in 2015 when he appointed him bishop of Osorno, Chile, over the opposition of many Chilean bishops. They were worried about the fallout from the Karadima scandal, which cost the Catholic Church much of its credibility in Chile. Karadima was responsible for cultivating dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops — including Barros — but he also kissed and fondled young boys in his community.