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20180222T1117 14804 CNS CHILE SCICLUNA VICTIMS 800James Hamilton, one of the victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, is seen Feb. 20 in Santiago, Chile, after a meeting with Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. Pope Francis asked Archbishop Scicluna to investigate allegations that Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, covered up allegations of abuse committed by his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. (CNS photo/Claudio Santana, Reuters)SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Chilean clergy sex abuse victims gave testimony to a Vatican team sent to investigate charges that church officials covered up the abuse.

But many of the victims gave their testimony to a Spanish-speaking Vatican official after the main Vatican envoy underwent emergency surgery.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta underwent emergency gallbladder surgery in Chile Feb. 21. The next day, on Twitter, the archbishop thanked "all those who have kindly expressed their support and generously offered their prayers as I continue in my recovery. God bless!"

Archbishop Scicluna decided to make the trip to Chile even though he was not feeling well. While listening to testimony Feb. 20, he started feeling worse, but was determined to finish the day. He went to the hospital for a checkup later that evening.

After Archbishop Scicluna was hospitalized, Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, an official of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, continued hearing testimony. He also met with some Catholics from Osorno, a town in the south of Chile. 

Abuse victims allege that Osorno Bishop Juan Barros -- then a priest -- had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had run out.

The victims' spokesman, Juan Carlos Claret, said he was glad they could meet with Father Bertomeu.

"Unlike Scicluna, he's a native Spanish speaker, so he doesn't need a translator to help with our conversations," Claret told Catholic News Service.

Claret said the controversy over Bishop Barros was dividing the Catholic community, and many people do not want a bishop they are convinced covered up for Father Karadima.

Pope Francis sent Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu to Chile after a controversy that reignited during the papal visit to Chile in January. Speaking to reporters, Pope Francis supported Bishop Barros and said, "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny."

He later apologized to victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

After their meeting with the Spanish priest, Claret and the other members of his team said they were very pleased that they are finally getting a chance to be heard. He said they spoke about the atmosphere in Osorno and how it is affecting the people living there.

Officials expect it will take Archbishop Scicluna up to 72 hours to recover and said he is determined to carry on with the hearings.

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 of experience as the Vatican's chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal congregation.

On Feb. 20, the archbishop spoke to Chilean James Hamilton, who first met Father Karadima many years ago as a teenager in his parish in Santiago. Hamilton's testimony about his abuse helped lead to Father Karadima's conviction by the Vatican.

After Hamilton met with Archbishop Scicluna, he said, "I am sure that the information that comes from these talks will be truthful and sincere."

Hamilton criticized Chilean church leaders, claiming they were "even capable of misleading the pope." Hamilton accuses them of blocking his and other victims' efforts to have their voices heard by the Vatican.
Jaime Coiro, spokesman for the Chilean bishops, said of the investigation, "This is a process where people are invited to be listened to, but there will be no response until the investigation is complete."

Before coming to Chile, Archbishop Scicluna traveled to New York to hear from another of Father Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz.

Cruz called the four-hour meeting "a good experience ... I feel that I was heard, it was very intense and very detailed and sometimes eye-opening for them."

During their visit to Chile, the Vatican team was scheduled to hold around 20 meetings with people who want to denounce Bishop Barros. All of them have been asked to send written documents containing their accusations.

"The pope needs to understand that is what survivors need -- to be heard," said Cruz.

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.