The Maltese archbishop will travel to Chile to investigate the claims

Pope Francis has ordered a leading Vatican official, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to conduct further investigations in Chile, in the wake of the continuing controversy surrounding Bishop Barros.

In a Vatican statement released this afternoon, it was announced “following recently received information regarding the case of” Bishop Juan Barros, Archbishop Charles Scicluna is to visit Chile to “hear those who have expressed their willingness to submit elements in their possession.”

Bishop Barros, who denies the allegations against him, is accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by Fr Fernando Karadima. In 2011, after an investigation spanning several years, the Vatican found Fr Karadima guilty of abusing several teenage boys in the Chilean capital of Santiago.

In a visit to Chile earlier this month, Pope Francis defended the bishop, telling journalists: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak.”

On the flight returning to Rome, the Holy Father apologised to victims for using the term “proof”.

“Of course, I know that there are many abused people who cannot bring proof (or) they don’t have it,” he said. “Or at times they have it but they are ashamed and cover it up and suffer in silence. The tragedy of the abused is tremendous.”

Bishop Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, is head of the Vatican body dealing with appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse. He was appointed to the role after the board of review was established by Pope Francis to make the hearings process more efficient.