Chilean Bishops Hauled to Rome Over Sex Abuse Cover-Up

by Stephen Wynne  •  •  May 15, 2018   

Purge of Chilean hierarchy may follow

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VATICAN CITY ( - Thirty-four Chilean bishops have been summoned to the Holy See for closed-door meetings over their handling of clerical sex abuse.

Analysts suggest the May 15-17 gathering may result in a purge of the hierarchy for their failure to address sexual abuse of minors at the hands of their priests.

At a press conference on the eve of the gathering, Bp. Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo conceded that he and his brother bishops had committed grave errors. "I am not saying that perhaps we have made mistakes. We have made mistakes," he said.

Santiago Auxiliary Bp. Luis Fernando Ramos Perez told reporters, "Receiving information that sexual abuses occurred in our community left many people in shock, because it is something that is unacceptable, intolerable, unjustifiable from every point of view."

It is "a great, moral imperative" that victims be heard and healed, Bp. Ramos said. "As Jesus said, we must ask forgiveness seven times 70. We are completely willing to ask forgiveness, but we also hope that forgiveness (can) be restorative."

The Vatican meeting stems from a scandal involving Bp. Juan Barros of Osorno, who is alleged to have covered up sex crimes committed by Fr. Fernando Karadima, one of Chile's most notorious pedophiles.

Bps. Ramos (L) and Gonzalez (Reuters)

Karadima was convicted in 2011 of abusing altar boys about two decades ago, and was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance.

Abuse victims allege Barros was aware of the abuse and, in one case, even witnessed it. The bishop shielded Fr. Karadima, they say, claiming Barros was involved in a homosexual relationship with the predator priest.

In April, Santiago's Cdl. Ricardo Ezzati called 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 went futher, calling for the resignation of anyone complicit in covering up priestly sex abuse. "Those who have committed errors should recognize them, regret and repair them," he said.

Ezzati's push to clean house came just days after Pope Francis apologized for his own handling of the scandal in a letter to the Chilean bishops.

As early as 2015, the Pontiff attracted criticism for his approach to the crisis. In May of that year, Francis called protestors against the Chilean hierarchy "dumb" and "led by the nose by the leftists who orchestrated all of this."

The Pope's response stunned Catholics, triggering what some have described as the worst crisis of his papacy.

Later in October, Chilean television aired a video of the insult, which sparked backlash against the Pope among the country's faithful. After the revelation, Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for Osorno's Lay Organization, told the New York Times, "We are now seeing the real face of Pope Francis, and we demand an explanation."

Public opinion turned against the Pope earlier this year, when at the tail end of a trip to Latin America, he declared Barros innocent of wrongdoing, and accused critics of calumniating the Osorno bishop.

"The day they bring me proof against Bp. Barros, I'll speak," he said. "There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?"

Pope Francis during his trip to Latin America (AP)

The Pope's response stunned Catholics, triggering what some have described as the worst crisis of his papacy.

Widespread public outraged forced the Pontiff to backtrack, and in an April 11 letter to the Chilean bishops, he apologized for the fumble.

"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," Francis wrote. "Right now, I ask forgiveness from all those I offended."

In the same letter, the Pope announced he was summoning the country's prelates to the Vatican to discuss the crisis.

Though there is broad consensus that the scandal constitutes a major crisis for the Church — it has destroyed its credibility in Chile — not all Chilean prelates seem convinced.

After arriving in Rome, Bp. Christian Caro Cordero of Puerto Montt told reporters, "I wouldn't say that there is a Church in crisis. I would say that there is a serious problem that must be confronted, but not a Church in crisis."

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