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Sending Abp Scicluna to Chile raises more questions than it answers

The Vatican is sending a highly-qualified investigator to examine the case against Bishop Barros. Is this an ad hoc response to bad press, or a real pursuit of justice?

(Left) Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta; (right)Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile (CNS photos/Paul Haring)

Even judged only on its perceptible consequences, the crisis in the Catholic Church over the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of clerics is the worst to face the Church since the time of the Protestant Reformation.

This is why the announcement of Pope Francis’ decision to send Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna to Osorno to hear evidence against Bishop Juan Barros—coming as it does on the heels of unprecedented public criticism of Pope Francis’ statements on the case—is too little, too late.

Pope Francis has publicly expressed his doubts about the accusations of several victims of the disgraced Father Fernando Karadima, who accuse Bishop Barros of covering for their abuser—accusations that have been public since at least 2012, several years before the Holy Father appointed Barros to the See of Osorno.

On Tuesday, the Press Office of the Holy See announced:

Following recently received information regarding the case of H.E. Msgr. Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, Bishop of Osorno (Chile), the Holy Father Francis has arranged for H.E. 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.

The announcement of Archbishop Scicluna’s mission raises more questions than it answers. Some of them are:

  • Precisely what information was recently received by the Holy See?
  • How recently, exactly, did this information arrive?
  • With what powers is Scicluna going? (Power to discover? To compel?)
  • Will Scicluna interview Barros (and if so, with what powers, and in what capacity)?

Catholic World Report put those questions to the director of the Vatican’s Press Office, Greg Burke, who declined to answer them.

The choice of Archbishop Scicluna for the mission is in itself entirely unexceptionable, even praiseworthy. Before he became archbishop of Malta, Scicluna had a long career as Promotor of Justice—i.e., prosecutor—with experience as an investigator in difficult cases, including that of Father Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. Scicluna also investigated the allegations against Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Edinburgh, who eventually admitted to inappropriate behavior with seminarians and retired to a life of seclusion, keeping his red hat even though he lost all his privileges. Scicluna also had a significant role in the legislative reform under Benedict XVI, which streamlined and facilitated the processes involved in investigating, prosecuting, and removing abusive priests.

Nevertheless, the nature and scope of Archbishop Scicluna’s mission in Chile remains unclear.

What we do know is that the decision to send Archbishop Scicluna came in the wake of public criticism without precedent in this pontificate, both for its intensity and for the high place and closeness of the quarters from which it came. After Francis leveled charges of “calumny” against Father Karadima’s victims, Cardinal Sean O’Malley stated that the Pope’s words caused victims “great pain.” Father Thomas J. Reese, SJ, said Francis “just doesn’t get it when it comes to victims of abuse.” America’s editor-at-large, Father James Martin, SJ, described himself as “disappointed” and “mystified” by the Pope’s remarks. The editors of the National Catholic Reporter declared: “Francis’ commitment to abuse survivors in question.”

The plain fact of the matter is this: Pope Francis’ public record since assuming office speaks for itself.

He created a toothless advisory body, making a show of accepting its one major recommendation—a special section within the criminal court at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to be tasked with trying cases of episcopal negligence in handling abuse—before scrapping the project in favor of paper guarantees and setting the bureaucracy back to business as usual.

He acquiesced to the underhanded dismissal (under the guise of a “leave of absence”) of the more stridently outspoken of two abuse survivor-members of the toothless commission, Mr. Peter Saunders.  Saunders had criticized the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop Barros to Osorno and of Cardinal George Pell to the Secretariat for the Economy (Pell responded to Saunders’ criticism with a statement that included a threat of legal action).

Francis restored the disgraced Cardinal Godfried Danneels to honorable service at the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 2015, years after audio recordings emerged in which Danneels is heard urging an abuse victim not to name his abuser (the victim’s own uncle, Bishop Roger Vangheluwe).

He named the archbishop-emeritus of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony—who notoriously mishandled abuse cases when at the helm in LA—as his personal representative at celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which is still reeling from the abuse crisis and was as recently as 2016 the subject of a statewide criminal investigation.

He reduced the sentences imposed by his own court against two clerics guilty of molesting children, restoring them to the clerical state, only to dismiss one of them—Mauro Inzoli—after “new” evidence of wrongdoing emerged and an Italian criminal court convicted him of abusing five children aged 12-16.

He sat on information he had directly from deaf victims at the Antonio Provolo Institute in Verona, allowing their abuser—by then transferred to another school in the Pope’s native Argentina—to continue abusing children, waiting years before passing responsibility for any eventual investigation to the Italian Bishops’ Conference.

He scoffed at the clergy and faithful of Osorno, saying their suffering over his decision to entrust their diocese to Bishop Barros was “foolishness” and the result of their letting themselves be led by the nose by “leftists.”

He repeatedly accused the three abuse victims at the center of the Osorno controversy of calumny, even though his own court had found them to be credible witnesses.

Archbishop Scicluna is a highly experienced investigator and a skilled lawyer, who is genuinely dedicated to the pursuit of justice and the service of the Church. He is not perfect—no one is—but there is no doubt he will do his best, and no doubt he deserves the full support of the whole Church as he carries out his work.

At the end of the day, though, this is not about Archbishop Scicluna. This is not even about Bishop Barros, who in any case has rights and deserves justice, whether he is guilty or innocent, as do his accusers. This is about the Catholic faithful, who expect and deserve better—much better—than an ad hoc response to a bad couple of weeks in the press, followed by a return to normale amministrazione. Ultimately, this is about the credibility of the Church as carrier of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ. High-sounding words and grand gestures cannot repair the damage Pope Francis has wrought. We are way past that now.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 214 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. Like the author the Scicluna assignment seems perplexing. Bishop Scicluna has exceptional credentials as cited. The unknown is whether he’ll be mercilessly objective given his buying into the Pope’s AL agenda. What the Vatican envisions as a Paradigm Shift is virtually identical with the Gnosticism of Marcion opposed by Saint Irenaeus. Marcion believed the wrathful Hebrew God of the OT was a separate and lower being [a dualism] than the all forgiving God of the New Testament. If Scicluna does his job and finds evidence for Barros’ removal the Pope as S Skojec 1Peter5 muses will be lauded as a pariah of justice. If the highly credentialed Scicluna fails to find evidence Skojec assumes the Pontiff wins the day. From my skeptic’s viewpoint Scicluna a new convert to Papal Marcionism may have a softer approach to clerical abuse of minors and downplay the affair dismissing the apparent like Democrats on the Memo. In the end it’s more the integrity of Scicluna that’s at stake.

  2. It’s good it’s being investigated BUT why do these scandals keep happening over and over and over again?! Is the priesthood that rotten? It seems that the clergy can produce a continual flow of disgusting abuse scandals the world over. Just do a google news search for “Catholic priest” and you’ll see that these priestly scandals happen almost daily. There’s only about 415,000 priests in the world (about the pop. of a medium sized town) yet this group can produce untold numbers of abuse scandals. Enough! I’m an orthodox Catholic who deeply respects the priesthood BUT this must stop now. What’s been done to the victims is so wrong. My heart breaks first for the victims and their families; secondly for the Church and how it’s been so soiled by these scandals and cover ups. I hesitated to write this but I think we should be vocal of how fed up and unacceptable these scandals are. Christ have mercy!

    • Yes, Andrew, Christ have mercy, indeed.
      On the surface (anyway), it seems there has been almost a complete breakdown in discipline within our clergy, within entire Orders of priests.
      And you are correct, the population of those who have received the Holy Orders is not now and never has been particularly large. Yet now we are deluged with news of the most vile conduct one can imagine. This is not by accident. Something is at work here. Something wicked this way comes. Pray the Rosary that the filth will be purged.

  3. Scicluna is just another post-Catholic agent of post-Catholic Francis.

    Francis owes his election to the sex abuse coverup Mafiosi – ably led by the sex abuse coverup Cardinal Danneels (exposed by the Belgian press for covering up homosexual predator incest by his friend Bishop Vanderweighe, who raped his own nephew) who appeared on the balcony when Francis was trotted out for his first appearance.

    This is the sex abuse coverup pontificate. The Francis- electioneers and Mafia (led by Danneels and McCarrick et al) opposed Pope Benedict – who actually did something about abusers and coverup artists – forcing bishops and priests to resign.

    Francis’ spokesman Cardinal Maradiaga sums up the “new policy” for the sex abuse coverup pontificate: they blame the sex abuse crisis on the Jewish press. You said that didn’t you Maradiaga? Yes. I guess you can blame your embezzling on the Jewish press now also…seeing that F has summarily exonerated you.

    I guess Austin Ivereigh’s “Team Bergoglio” insists that all pew-sitters are supposed to act like cattle and cower when F calls people stupid for questioning the new sex abuse coverup clericalists (same as the old sex abuse coverup clericalists).

    Meanwhile – the hocheer-leaders li and Reese wring their hands as F fumbles the ball and threatens their sex revolution.

  4. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Lk18:8)
    A gratuitous statement, possibly the only one in the new testament. Jesus is offering the Church Militant a warning to be taken seriously. Is this the great tribulation? The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church triumphant, but how vulnerable is the Church militant? How do we, the faithful, correct the split – – the Concilium church vs the Communio church. Only Jesus can drive evil from the Temple – – we can only pray, hold to the faith, and wait.

  5. It is interesting that Altieri fails to mention that Scicluna as Archbishop of Malta was directly and principally responsible for his island’s implementation of Amoris Laetitia that managed to exceed even those of Buenos Aires. Scicluna is on record as having told seminarians that they should leave if they didn’t want to obey. In other words, the record is clear that Scicluna is a clerical careerist and opportunist who will do whatever is necessary to get his mitre (and red hat)): conservative for Benedict XVI and ultra-liberal for Francis. He will “find” whatever Francis tells him to find.

  6. As regards Barros, I understand that whilst there are some victims of Karadina who hold him responsible for covering up the latter’s abuse, others deny this. I am not sufficiently aware of all the details to make any judgment. However, having been a member of the Legionaries of Christ, I am aware of the fact that abusers like Maciel and Karadina are excellent manipulators and are careful not to let others know what they are doing, and they do their best to have the victims keep quiet. Outsiders have expressed dismay to me as to how so many of us had no inkling of what Maciel was up to. They fail to understand how these abusers operate and the kind of “culture” operating within such groups. Can Barros get “his day in court” and be freed from condemnation in the case of him being innocent? I find it extremely difficult. In any case, if Scicluna comes to the conclusion that he is innocent, he ought to be removed from Osorno and maybe given some desk in the Vatican. The media hype in such cases should not be given much credence. Cardinal Law was advised by psychologists and psychiatrists that the abusers had been rehabilitated and could return to the ministry. Did the psychologists and psychiatrists take any heat for the mistaken advice? Of course not.

    Pope Francis also committed serious imprudence in two cases in Spain. In both, he received phone calls. In the first one, it had to with a member of Opus Dei who was accused of sexual abuse. He was called on the phone by family members. He sent the case to the CDF and they concluded that there was no case. However, a major national newspaper took it up. The CDF stated that this man’s good name should be restored. How? The other case was against 9 priests in Granada. The “victim” again called Francis on the phone. He took their allegations as true. The Archbishop organized a ceremony in the Cathedral in which he prostrated himself etc. Eventually, one of the priests was tried and the judge declared him not guilty and ordered the false victim to pay compensation of 60,000 euros and the costs of the case. In another case against a priest in Peru, he was reduced to the lay state, but the Supreme Court of the country found him not guilty and ordered the Police to completely clean his record. He went to Rome in an effort to get PF to return him to the ministry but achieved nothing. I don’t know how the case finished. Two other priests I know in Peru were falsely accused of sexual abuse and the Prosecution declared that the accusations were false, after several months of investigation. They were suspended and the case sent to Rome. It took Rome several more months to respond, and they were eventually cleared. Of course, they are mediatically condemned.
    As for Cardinal Pell threatening a lawsuit, I agree with it, and I understand that this is the advice that Canon Lawyers give to priests falsely accused. Because people are victims of this terrible abuse, doesn’t mean that they are free from Orignal Sin and its consequences.

    • Fr. Thomas,
      Read more about Boston and Cardinal Law. There was a Dr. Mullins who wrote in a letter that Fr. Geoghan should not be near children but a short time later he was apparently pressured by Boston to write a statement giving Geoghan an all clear. Cardinal Law later pulled Geoghan out of St. Brendan’s because of multiple parental complaints and two months later put him in St. Julia’s in charge of three youth groups. His office placed Shanley in a seminarian hostel in Manhattan without telling them of his danger in the past. Read more on Law. He might be a bad reference for innocence. A Miss Gavreaux asserts that she warned him twice in person about Shanley to his face and Law denies remembering her. After her first warning, Shanley was promoted to pastor….which occasioned her second warning to Law which he says he doesn’t remember. He did not burst out in just anger and assert that she was lying….just that he didn’t remember.

    • Cardinal Pell was an outspoken conservative in the Australian Church. I think the charges against him are bogus, ginned up by his enemies in and out of the Church.

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