By Aislinn Laing and Dave Sherwood
SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The Vatican envoy who was sent to Chile to gather evidence of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church said it would be up to Pope Francis to decide on whether to release the report of their findings to the country's civil authorities.
During a visit in February, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican's top sex abuse investigator, conducted interviews with victims to compile a 2,300-page report which he handed to the Pope. It accused Chile's bishops of "grave negligence" in handling allegations that children had been abused and said evidence of sex crimes had been destroyed.
Asked if the Vatican would hand over the report or make it public, Scicluna said the "freedom and autonomy" of the Catholic Church should be respected.
"The report is not mine, it belongs to Pope Francis," he told journalists in Chile's capital Santiago as he prepared to depart for Rome. "Every demand and petition must be sent to him who as the leader of the church... has jurisdiction."
The Chilean authorities have said they would request details of the alleged victims and perpetrators of abuse from the Vatican, according to an interview with the national prosecuting authority's sex crimes chief in the local La Tercera newspaper.
Scicluna announced the creation of a "listening service," made up of laity and church officials, that would hear further allegations of abuse. He said he had met "hundreds of people" over the past week, and received letters from others.
He said the Church was committed to finding "justice" for the victims through its own channels and through civil law.
"The invitation to recognise and admit the full truth, with all of its painful repercussions and consequences, is the starting point for authentic healing," he said.
"We must have justice for the good of the country and for that of the Church."
Scicluna's arrival last week coincided with a growing tide of abuse allegations against the Catholic Church in Chile.
This week, further allegations arose in the southern Chilean cities of Aysen and Temuco that saw clergy suspended and sanctioned, according to statements from the Chilean Church.
Chilean police and prosecutors launched unexpected raids on Church offices last week, seizing documents relating to allegations of abuse.
(Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bernadette Baum)