SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The Vatican’s sex crimes investigator interviewed several victims of sexually abusive members of the Marist Brothers religious order Tuesday, suggesting that his mandate has expanded beyond investigating alleged abuse cover-up by a lone Chilean bishop.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, tasked by Pope Francis with investigating Bishop Juan Barros, was forced to extend his trip in Chile by several days after having undergone emergency gall bladder surgery.
He and his colleague from the Vatican, the Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, have taken advantage of the extra time to add more interviews, including with victims of the Marist Brothers.
“We have come away with a positive impression. … We have been listened to,” said Isaac Givovich, who was abused at age 6, on leaving the meeting with Scicluna in the Chilean capital. “This is one more step for justice.”
Jaime Concha, who presented himself to reporters as a survivor of abuse, called it “a historic day” for breaking with the “iron cycle that had been established for impunity.”
“Never again will the reports or the testimonies be censored or redacted, or the victims dismissed,” Concha added. “Now the records will be with (Pope) Francis and the Vatican, and they will decide if they continue to cover up or if they do justice.”
Scicluna was sent to Chile by the Vatican on a mission to hear testimonies in the case of Barros, a bishop from Osorno who has been accused of covering up sexual abuse.
The group led by Givovich is demanding the creation of a special Vatican commission to analyze, investigate and punish alleged crimes committed by brothers and other religious figures in the Marist Brothers. It also wants to enter into a direct dialogue with the Vatican.
“I think the church must stop playing blind, deaf and mute,” said Jorge Franco, another of the victims. “Our testimony is pretty clear.”
The Chilean Roman Catholic Church began an internal investigation in early February in which Givovich was the first to testify. It the second attempt to investigate abuses by the institution after Franciscan friar Saul Zamorano was suspended on allegations of sexual abuses.
There will also be a parallel judicial probe and several victims are preparing a collective penal complaint.
The case of the Marists came to light in 2017 when former students who suffered abuses organized online to get together and tell their stories.
The Marist Brothers congregation acknowledged in August that member Abel Perez confessed in 2010, seven years earlier, to abusing 14 boys.
Marists are not priests but rather religious figures dedicated to education. They operate in dozens of countries around the world.
Associated Press writer Eva Vergara in Santiago contributed to this report.