SANTIAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - On the heels of Pope Francis' admission he fumbled his handling of the Chilean sex abuse crisis, Santiago Cdl. Ricardo Ezzati is calling for disgraced Bp. Juan Barros of Osorno to resign.
Ezzati, the former head of the Chilean bishop's conference, said that regardless of whether Barros had covered up clerical sex abuse, as alleged, "without a doubt," he should step down.
The cardinal's demand marks a shift for Chilean Church leaders; up to this point, they had called for a "drastic solution" to the scandal but stopped short of calling for Barros to resign.
Ezzati also called for those complicit in covering up priestly sex abuse to step down. "Those who have committed errors should recognize them, regret and repair them," he said.
His push to clean house comes after a scathing report on the crisis was delivered to the Vatican, after which Pope Francis ordered Maltese Abp. Charles Scicluna — an experienced clerical sex abuse investigator — to investigate allegations of wrongdoing.
Scicluna met with former seminarian Juan Carlos Cruz Saturday at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Manhattan. In a discussion described as "intense, detailed and eye-opening," Cruz detailed for Scicluna his abuse at the hands of Fr. Fernando Karadima and Barros' subsequent cover-up of the priest's crimes.
Cruz contends that during the 1980s, Karadima repeatedly assaulted him and a host of other boys. He also alleges Barros knew about the abuse — that the bishop, in fact, was actually present during some of the abuse.
The one-time seminarian maintains that Barros and Karadima were sex partners — that he witnessed the pair engaging in homosexual acts — and alleges Barros hid his lover's crimes to protect him from prosecution.
Barros has denied the allegations, telling the Associated Press, "I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims." Karadima, meanwhile, was removed from ministry in 2011 and ordered to spend the remainder of his life in penance and prayer.
Scicluna's investigation yielded a 2,300-page report, which was delivered to the Vatican; the findings prompted Pope Francis to summon Chile's bishops to Rome for a meeting in May.
Francis has taken heat for his handling of the scandal.
While wrapping-up a January visit to Chile, the pontiff told reporters he didn't believe Barros was complicit in concealing Karadima's abuse.
"The day they bring me proof against Bp. Barros, then I will speak," he declared. "There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?"
The pope's statements, especially his accusations of sex abuse victims engaging in "slander," prompted an outcry across Chile and beyond. The incident, described by some as the most serious crisis of Francis' five-year papacy, led many to question his commitment to stamping out clerical sex crimes.
In response to the backlash, on April 8 the pontiff issued an apology:
As for my own responsibility, I acknowledge, and I want you to faithfully convey it that way, that I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially because of the lack of truthful and balanced information. Right now, I ask forgiveness from all those I offended, and I hope to be able to do so personally, in the coming weeks, in the meetings I will have with representatives of the people who were interviewed.
He added, "I am writing to you ... to humbly request your collaboration and assistance in discerning the short, mid and long-term measures that must be adopted to re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile, with the goal of repairing as much as possible the scandal and re-establishing justice."