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Malta Archbishop Scicluna.(AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)

ROME, February 21, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Just one day into his investigation of alleged sex abuse cover-up by a bishop in Chile, the Pope’s special envoy in the “Barros case” has been hospitalized after suffering gallbladder complications, Church officials in Chile have confirmed.

Last night, Archbishop Charles Scicluna was admitted to the UC San Carlos Clinic (Apoquindo) in Santiago, Chile. A spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference, Jaime Coiro, said Scicluna felt discomfort several days ago and decided last night to be taken to a clinic for tests.

Following an initial examination, the Maltese archbishop underwent laparoscopic surgery due to cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). Coiro said on Wednesday that Scicluna is conscious and in a stable condition. He is expected to be discharged on Thursday or Friday.

Coiro added that Pope Francis has asked that interviews with witnesses continue Wednesday through Friday as planned. They are to be handled by Father Jordi Bertomeu, a Spanish priest and official of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) who has been serving as Scicluna’s translator and notary in the probe.

The Barros case

Archbishop Scicluna arrived in Chile on Monday to investigate accusations against Bishop Juan Barros, a protégé of Chile’s most notorious predator priest, Fr. Fernando Karadima, who has been strongly defended by Pope Francis until now. Interviews began on Tuesday.

Barros has been accused by victims of covering up and even witnessing their abuse by Karadima, who was removed from ministry and sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” by a Vatican tribunal in 2011.

Barros has denied knowing anything about the abuse.

Following the Karadima investigation, and on the basis of the same witness testimony, the CDF warned Pope Francis about Barros, and recommended that he be removed as military ordinary, an office he had held since 2005.

But with a letter signed by the Pope in January 2015 and sent to the Chilean bishops, Pope Francis overruled the CDF’s recommendation and instead promoted Barros to the bishopric of Osorno.

The Barros appointment caused outrage and led to protests by priests and lay Catholics in Osorno, who question how someone who says he never saw anything suspicious in the case of Karadima could be trusted to protect Osorno’s children.

The Barros affair exploded during the Pope’s recent visit to Chile, when he dismissed accusations against Barros as “slander,” seemingly unaware that victims had placed Barros at the scene of Karadima’s crimes.

Even while later apologizing during an inflight press conference at the end of the trip, the Pope doubled down saying: “In the case of Barros it’s been observed, it’s been studied; there’s no evidence. The best thing to do if someone believes it’s the case is to come forward quickly with evidence.”

Soon after, however, the AP reported that Pope Francis had received a letter back in 2015 from one of Karadima’s victims, Juan Carlos Cruz. The letter, which was hand delivered to the Pope by the head of his sex abuse commission, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, graphically described Karadima’s abuse and alleged that Barros was sometimes present.

The revelations led Pope Francis to appoint Archbishop Scicluna as his special envoy to investigate the allegations.

Scicluna is no stranger to sexual abuse investigations. He worked for the better part of two decades as the promoter of justice for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In 2015 he was appointed by Pope Francis to head a CDF team that handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse.

Scicluna is credited with uncovering evidence of sexual abuse that led to the removal of Fr. Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was discovered to have abused seminarians and fathered several children while leading a double life.

Speaking last week on The World Over, respected priest and canon lawyer, Fr. Gerald Murray, said he is “confident” the investigation will be carried out thoroughly, because Scicluna “has a good track record in promoting justice in this matter.”

But Fr. Murray pointed to a deeper problem. “We don’t know what the Pope and his associates did with regard to the allegations against Bishop Barros before the Pope appointed him to the bishopric of Osorno in Chile,” he said. 

Fr. Murray continued:

The Pope has said there was no evidence, that it was calumny, that he found no reason that this man had overlooked sexual abuse. But if this had been done in a process where these witnesses could have been publicly notified that their testimony would be taken, in other words, if we had employed normal legal practices in investigating a potential crime, I think people would be more satisfied. 

Right now, basically you write letters to the Pope, to the nuncio, and then you hope something happens but you never really know. This has to change. The Pope himself had said that he would establish a tribunal to investigate bishops’ negligent behavior in handling these cases. That tribunal has never been formed and it really should be, because right now most people’s confidence in the matter has been shattered when they find that one of the accusing parties had submitted testimony more than two years ago and yet the Pope, a couple of weeks ago, said there was no evidence.

Testimony is evidence.

Elizabeth Yore, a well known attorney and international child rights advocate, told LifeSiteNews: “The Vatican must open all files, investigative reports and communications regarding the appointment of Bishop Barros, and disclose any efforts by Pope Francis and other Vatican or Church officials to conceal information, recommendations and evidence regarding the Barros allegations.” 

“At stake here is the protection of children from predatory priests. There is no more important mission of Holy Mother Church,” she said.

Victims come forth

Archbishop Scicluna began his investigation in New York on Saturday, where he met with a key victim in the Barros case, Juan Carlos Cruz.  

It was Cruz who authored the letter delivered to Pope Francis in 2015. After a four-hour meeting with Scicluna, he said he felt his story had finally been heard. He described the meeting in a Manhattan church as “intense, detailed and eye-opening.”

“For the first time I felt that someone is listening,” Cruz said. “I think (Archbishop Scicluna) was sincerely moved by what I was saying. He cried,” Cruz told reporters outside of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Cruz said they mainly spoke about Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, and said the archbishop “had tears in his eyes” as he explained what he and others went through.

But he also said the conversation extended beyond Barros and touched on the alleged roles of several other bishops and Chilean cardinals. “They not only asked me about Barros but also about Cardinals Errázuriz and Ezzati and about other bishops. I had the impression that Barros was the main subject but the thing is much bigger than him.”

The cardinals have publicly denied any wrongdoing.

Cruz said that Archbishop Scicluna told him he would gather all the evidence and testimony from victims in the Barros case and speak directly to the Pope about it.

On Monday, Scicluna flew to Chile to begin a series of meetings with victims and others who have opposed Barros’ appointment. The interviews began in Providencia, the wealthy Santiago neighborhood that is home to Karadima’s former parish.

“I have come to Chile, sent by Pope Francis, to gather useful information concerning Monsignor Juan Barros,” Archbishop Scicluna said in a brief statement following his meetings on Tuesday. “I want to express my gratitude to the people who have expressed their willingness to meet me in the next few days.”

One of the victims Scicluna met with before being hospitalized was James Hamilton, whose testimony contributed to Karadima’s 2011 conviction.

After his meeting with Scicluna on Tuesday, Hamilton said he is convinced the archbishop will present the truth Pope Francis. “I have no doubt that Monsignor Scicluna is going to share [with the Pope] what is really happening in Chile,” he said.

Jose Andres Murillo, one of the three victims (together with Cruz and Hamilton) who have spoken publicly of Karadima’s abuse and accused Barros of a cover-up, came to meet with investigators on Wednesday. 

Archbishop Scicluna was initially scheduled to fly to Rome on Friday to present his findings to Pope Francis. Eventual schedule changes still remain unknown. He has expressed his willingness to continue with the interviews if he is physically able.

UPDATE: Dr. Alonso Rioseco, one of the managing directors of the San Carlos Clinic of the Catholic University of Santiago (Apoquindo area), where Msgr. Charles Scicluna underwent surgery, has confirmed that the Maltese prelate had his gall bladder removed on Wednesday.

Scicluna was operated by Dr. Rodrigo Miguieles Cocco. “It was a minimally invasive surgical procedure. The prognosis is good,” Dr. Cocco said.

Dr. Rioseco said Archbishop Scicluna will remain at the clinic until Friday or Saturday.

He also noted that he told the patient and his entourage that it is not advisable to make an intercontinental flight in the coming days. It is therefore almost certain that the Pope’s Envoy will not re-enter Italy on Saturday, as originally planned.