VATICAN CITY — A Chilean survivor of sexual abuse says that he wrote a letter to Pope Francis in 2015 claiming that Bishop Juan Barros of Chile witnessed abuse perpetrated by his friend Father Fernando Karadima and that the Pope failed to act on the letter.
In April 2015, Marie Collins, then a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Minors, along with three other members of the commission, met with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Pope’s top advisor on sex abuse, giving him a letter from a victim of Father Karadima to deliver to the Pope, according to a Feb. 5 report from The Associated Press.
The meeting followed Francis’ controversial appointment of Bishop Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno, Chile, in January 2015.
Collins told the AP that Cardinal O’Malley said he would deliver the letter to Pope Francis. The letter’s author, Juan Carlos Cruz, now living and working in Philadelphia, told the AP that Cardinal O’Malley told him in 2015 that the letter had been delivered to Francis.
The eight-page letter alleges that, as a young priest, Bishop Barros witnessed the sexual abuse of other young priests and teens by Father Karadima, including kissing and genital touching, “innumerable times” and that he “covered up everything.”
It also states that Bishop Barros himself was engaged in sexual acts with Father Karadima.
Father Karadima, who once led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque, was convicted of sexually abusing minors in a 2011 Vatican trial, and at the age of 84, he was sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.
The AP report comes less than one week after Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, widely regarded as an expert in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse, as a Vatican delegate to examine accusations against Bishop Barros.
The Pope has defended Bishop Barros on multiple occasions, including on his return flight from Chile Jan. 21, when he told journalists that he had not seen any evidence against Bishop Barros. He also said: “If a person comes and gives me evidence, I am the first to listen to him. We should be just.”
In a Jan. 30 statement, the Vatican said that “following some information recently received regarding the case of Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid,” the Pope has asked Archbishop Scicluna to travel to Santiago “to listen to those who have expressed the desire to submit items in their possession.”
In addition to overseeing the Diocese of Malta, in 2015, Archbishop Scicluna 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 also served as the congregation’s promoter of justice for 17 years, beginning in 1995.
Father Robert Gahl, a professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, told CNA Feb. 5 that the case of Father Karadima and Bishop Barros “is kind of particular,” because at the time of the abuse Bishop Barros wasn’t yet a bishop.
Therefore, “his alleged failure to report did not constitute episcopal negligence, and yet his being somehow an accessory, at least insofar as he is accused of not having stopped a crime from taking place, would constitute the negligence of someone who is now a bishop,” he noted.
It is not known if Pope Francis has or has not seen Cruz’s letter, and Father Gahl said that just because someone can write to him “doesn’t mean that he actually sees the letter personally.” It appears that, until recently, the Pope did not have the full information, he said.
In 2015, the year the letter was reportedly given to Pope Francis, the Vatican took measures against other Church authorities accused of covering up or failing to report clergy sexual abuse in their dioceses.
Bishop Robert Finn, formerly head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, resigned in April 2015, after being convicted of a misdemeanor for failure to report an allegation of clergy sexual abuse.
Also in 2015, the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt, formerly head of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese, was accepted by the Vatican after he was accused of negligence in the handling of some allegations of sexual abuse.