Pope sends sex crimes expert to Chile to investigate bishop


VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is sending the Vatican's most respected sex crimes prosecutor to Chile to investigate a bishop accused by victims of covering up for the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

The Vatican said today Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna would travel to Chile "to listen to those who have expressed the desire to provide elements" about the case of Bishop Juan Barros.

The move marks the first known time the Vatican has launched a full-blown investigation of an alleged sex abuse cover-up. It could fuel demands for the Vatican to more actively investigate and sanction religious superiors who turn a blind eye to priests who rape, sodomize and molest children.

The Barros controversy dominated Francis' just-ended trip to Chile and Peru and exposed Francis' blind spot as far as clerical sex abuse is concerned. Even one of his closest advisers, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, publicly rebuked him for his dismissive treatment of victims and tried to set him straight.

Barros was a protege of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a charismatic and politically powerful priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican for sexually abusing minors in 2011. His victims testified to Chilean prosecutors that Barros and other priests in the El Bosque community saw Karadima kissing youngsters and were aware of his perversions, but did nothing.

After Karadima was sanctioned by a church court, Chile's bishops were so intent on trying to stem the fallout from the scandal that they persuaded the Vatican to have Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops resign and take a yearlong sabbatical, according to a 2015 letter obtained by The Associated Press.

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