Vatican child abuse investigator undergoing surgery in Santiago

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Vatican special envoy Archbishop Charles Scicluna speaks with the media after meeting with victims of sexual abuse, in Santiago

Vatican special envoy Archbishop Charles Scicluna speaks with the media after meeting with victims of sexual abuse allegedly committed by members of the church, in Santiago, Chile February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Claudio Santana

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Vatican investigator sent to Chile by Pope Francis to interview sex abuse victims was undergoing gallbladder surgery after being hospitalized on Wednesday, church officials said.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna was undergoing surgery at San Carlos de Apoquindo Hospital in Santiago, the Archdiocese of Malta said in a statement. Scicluna is archbishop of Malta.

Earlier Wednesday, the spokesman for the Episcopal Conference, Jaime Coiro, said Scicluna would be replaced for the rest of the interviews by Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, a Spanish priest, at the request of Pope Francis.

"It's a health problem that has been ongoing for several days," Coiro told reporters, referring to Scicluna.

Scicluna is in Chile looking into accusations that a bishop covered up crimes against minors. He arrived on Monday and started hearing victims' testimony on Tuesday.

Before his trip to Chile, Scicluna heard testimony in New York from a witness in the case against Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by several men of covering up sexual abuse of minors by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima.

The Karadima case has gripped Chile, and several groups in the country protested Pope Francis' decision to appoint Barros bishop of Osorno in 2015.

Scicluna had been due to hear testimony from victims until his scheduled departure from Chile on Friday.

    "As far as we can see, Monsignor Scicluna and Father Bertomeu are a fairly close team and work with the same hand. So it seems there is no change," said Jose Murillo, one of Karadima's accusers.

     "It's very gratifying and in a certain sense healing that people from the church are finally inviting us to be heard," he added.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero, Cassandra Garrison; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Hugh Bronstein, Andrea Ricci and Jonathan Oatis)

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