Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Pope Francis is sending a representative, a sex crimes expert, to Chile to investigate whether a bishop there covered up years of abuse, the Vatican announced Tuesday.
The announcement comes after the pope faced backlash earlier this month during a visit to Chile. Sexual abuse victims had called on the Vatican to investigate Chilean Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who they allege protected pedophile priest the Rev. Fernando Karadima and was therefore complicit in his crimes.
Francis said there was no evidence against Barros.
"The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk," Francis said outside the northern Chilean city of Iquique on Jan. 19. "But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?"
Karadima, the former head of the El Bosque parish in Santiago, was sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer for his abuse of young boys in 2011.
The Vatican said Tuesday it would send Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna to Chile to listen to the accusers.
Francis drew criticism for his remarks, with a prominent Barros accuser, James Hamilton, saying the comments revealed an "unknown face" of the Pope.
"What the Pope has done today is offensive and painful, and not only against us, but against everyone seeking to end the abuses," Hamilton said.
Juan Carlos Cruz, another Barros accuser, said the pontiff's "plea for forgiveness is empty."
"As if I could have taken a selfie or photo while Karadima abused me and others with Juan Barros standing next to him watching everything," Cruz said.
"Pope Francis' attack on the Karadima victims is a stunning setback," Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, said. "He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis. Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?"
Sara Shayanian contributed to this report.