After Defending Controversial Bishop, Pope To Send Sex Abuse Investigator To Chile : Parallels Pope Francis questioned survivors' accounts and defended a Chilean bishop accused of a coverup. But the Vatican announced Tuesday that a top envoy will now look into survivors' claims.

After Defending Controversial Bishop, Pope To Send Sex Abuse Investigator To Chile

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A few days ago, Pope Francis came to the defense of a Catholic bishop who was accused of covering up Chile's most notorious pedophile priest. The pope took some criticism for that. And now he's announced he's sending a top envoy to Chile to look into survivors' claims. The controversy has raised concerns that on the issue of clerical sex abuse, the Latin American pope just does not get it. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: During the flight home from his January visit to Peru and Chile, reporters asked Francis about his support for a Chilean Bishop suspected of covering up a pedophile priest - charges the pope called slander.

JOSHUA MCELWEE: The most moving was a Chilean journalist - a woman who, with her voice cracking, said simply why isn't the survivors' testimony proof for you.

POGGIOLI: Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, says the pope apologized for causing pain to victims but then made a murky distinction between the words evidence and proof.

MCELWEE: For me, it was mystifying to hear the pope say there's no evidence but then to also say that the bishop is innocent.

POGGIOLI: The pope's remarks prompted scathing headlines in leading English-language Catholic media, such as "Francis's Commitment To Abuse Survivors In Question" and "Pope Francis's Blindspot On Sexual Abuse." Within days, the Vatican announced it would send its top sex crimes investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to Chile to study the allegations of a cover-up. But in Italy, media had focused more on the papal apology to victims and not on clerical sex abuse. Gianluigi Nuzzi, author of several books on Vatican scandals, told an Italian radio program...

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GIANLUIGI NUZZI: (Through interpreter) Especially in Italy, since we're right next door to the Vatican, everything is muted - swept under the rug. It's been nothing close to the cases that shook Ireland and the United States.

POGGIOLI: Having lived in the shadow of the Vatican for some 2,000 years, Italian Catholics can be jaded. It's common for parents to warn their children not to be alone in a room with a priest. And when pedophile cases occur, they're usually hushed up. Societies that have dealt publicly with clerical sex abuse are mostly English-speaking or North European, whose cultures encourage victims to seek compensation.

ROBERT MICKENS: Which is not the case in some other places - like Latin America, Italy, Spain, Portugal - where the victims have been much slower to come forward and speak publicly about this.

POGGIOLI: Robert Mickens is the English editor of the Catholic daily La Croix.

MICKENS: Pope Francis is a typical Latin American bishop. When it comes to dealing with sexual abuse, he just has not been forced to deal with it.

POGGIOLI: Gerard O'Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit America magazine, is convinced Francis is determined to eradicate the abuse and the cover-up. But he wonders just how informed the pope is.

GERARD O'CONNELL: It's no secret that there are people with different views inside the Vatican. And they're not on the pope's page. And some still move with the culture of cover-up, and yet Francis wants it more transparent.

POGGIOLI: Of all the pedophile priest scandals, perhaps the most devastating was in Ireland where Catholicism was closely linked with national identity. Francis may soon hear directly just how mad Irish Catholics are when, as expected, he visits Ireland in August. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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