June 19, 2018 / 3:37 PM / in 4 months

Chilean law enforcement question Vatican sex abuse envoy at airport

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean prosecutors said on Tuesday they questioned the Vatican’s top sex abuse investigator as he prepared to fly out of the country following a fact-finding and reconciliation mission ordered by the Pope.

Pope Francis leads the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Raúl Guzmán, a prosecutor based in the capital Santiago, said he “interrogated” Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta in the police station at Santiago airport in relation to an abuse case involving 25 Marist brothers and 30 alleged victims.

“We arranged an interview with Charles Scicluna that took place in the offices of the investigative police in the airport before his flight,” he told journalists.

At a press conference hours earlier, Scicluna said the Vatican was committed to working with the Chilean civil authorities to get justice for the victims.

Asked whether he would make public a 2,300-page report he had produced following an earlier visit to Chile in February, Scicluna said the decision was up to Pope Francis, adding that the Church’s “freedom and autonomy” should be respected.

“Every demand and petition must be sent to him who as the leader of the church ... has jurisdiction,” he told reporters.

The latest events come as the Church and the state address a growing abuse and cover-up scandal that has damaged the reputation of the Andean country’s most popular religion.

Last month, the pope accused the Chilean church of “grave negligence” in handling previous claims that children had been abused and that evidence of sex crimes had been covered up. He also accepted the resignations of three bishops.

Scicluna said that during his second visit to Chile, which began last week, he conducted “hundreds” more interviews, including with abuse victims who had come forward in recent weeks. He announced the establishment of a “listening service” for church officials to hear the claims of many more who wrote to him.

“The invitation to recognise and admit the full truth, with all of its painful repercussions and consequences, is the starting point for authentic healing,” he said.

COUNCIL QUESTIONED

Some alleged abuse victims denounced Scicluna’s decision to appoint officials from the National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims to run the “listening service.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, one of three Chilean victims who visited the Pope in Rome earlier this month, said in an interview on Tuesday that he was “very disappointed” by Scicluna’s announcement.

“People are not going to be comfortable to speak to them about abuse when they are the same people who disregarded victims for years,” he said.

Eneas Espinoza, who alleges he was abused by a Marist brother at a Santiago school, said those wanting to lay abuse claims should go to the police.

“The Church cannot be judge and jury,” he said. “This is a backwards step.”

Chile’s national prosecutions director Jorge Abbott said on Tuesday he was preparing an official request to the Vatican for information on sexual abuse in the Church.

“It’s important that we investigate to be able to establish facts, do right by the victims but also find out if there is any way to prosecute some of these cases.”

Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Richard Chang

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