SANTIAGO, Chile (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Chilean cardinal accused of covering up abuse resigned, but the bishop tapped to fill in for him has also been criticized for mishandling abuse claims.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cdl. Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, archbishop of Santiago, Chile, on March 23. The 77-year-old cardinal is two years past the age prelates typically offer their resignation to the Holy See. But Cdl. Ezzati's resignation also comes amid accusations of covering up clerical sex abuse.
Father Oscar Muñoz Toledo, former chancellor of the Santiago archdiocese, allegedly abused seven minors — with five of them being his own nephews. Cardinal Ezzati allegedly covered up Fr. Muñoz's misdeeds.
The Pope has not yet picked an official successor for Cdl. Ezzati; but in the meantime, Bp. Celestino Aós Braco from the diocese of Copiapo will act as apostolic administrator for the Santiago archdiocese. Bishop Aós, 73, is a Spanish-born Capuchin and psychologist who has lived in Chile since 1983.
Cardinal Ezzati maintains his innocence. At a press conference announcing his resignation, he said, "I leave with my head held high," adding, "Every accusation has been responded to, and we will have to wait for what justice says: it is not enough for one to be accused of a cover-up; it has to be proven."
Some are criticizing Pope Francis' choice of Bp. Aós to be Santiago's apostolic administrator, citing the fact that he, too, has been accused of mishandling clerical sex abuse claims in the past.
Prior to being consecrated bishop, Aós previously served on the ecclesiastical tribunal of the diocese of Valparaiso. In this position, he allegedly mishandled sex abuse allegations of 12 seminarians against five priests.
Crux reports that independent sources are saying that Aós investigated the allegations for three months in 2012 then claimed there was insufficient evidence to take on a canon law case against the priests.
One of the ex-seminarian abuse victims, Mauricio Pulgar, told Crux, "In my opinion, the Pope made a terrible mistake."
He continued, "There are many other really good candidates who have not covered up. I think this is a really bad signal for victims of clerical sexual abuse, and also for all the lay movements trying to clean up the Church."
Pulgar described Aós' treatment of him and other abuse survivors as "inhumane."
Pulgar made sexual abuse allegations against Fr. Jaime Da Fonseca — among others. Aós stated in a document that his allegations against Fr. Da Fonseca were false.
But the Vatican defrocked Da Fonseca last year. Unusually, Da Fonseca's case was reviewed by the Congregation for Clergy rather than the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — the CDF is normally the one to handle abuse allegations against clerics.
Crux reported in August last year that more than 70 people have made sex abuse allegations against Fr. Da Fonseca.
Numerous allegations have surfaced in recent years about sexually abusive and actively homosexual priests preying on young seminarians at the seminary of Lo Vazquez in the Valparaiso diocese.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna from Malta was sent by Pope Francis last year to investigate sex abuse cover-ups in Chile. One part of that investigation was a meeting in June with men who say they were sexually abused as seminarians at Lo Vazquez. Some of the abuse survivors who met with Scicluna spoke highly of how the archbishop handled their testimonies.
Francis declared the sweeping investigation into Chile following widespread backlash to a statement he made defending Bp. Juan Barros, accused of covering up an abusive priest as a monsignor. When the investigation wrapped up, the Pope summoned all the bishops of Chile to Rome for an emergency meeting in May 2018. At the end of that meeting, all the bishops of Chile offered their resignations.
The Pope was quick to accept the resignation of Bp. Barros, as well as two bishops who had reached retirement age — one of them being Bp. Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortázar, head of the Valparaiso diocese. In the months that followed, Francis gave approval for a few other Chilean prelates to step down as well.
Cardinal Ezzati's is the most recent in a series of resignations.
Soon after news broke of Bp. Aós' scandalous history regarding abuse claims, reports came out in the United States that the Pope will likely pick Atlanta's Abp. Wilton Gregory to replace Cdl. Donald Wuerl as head of the Washington archdiocese.
Cardinal Wuerl stepped down as archbishop amid intense criticism from laity over past mishandling of child sexual abuse claims. After months with Wuerl being apostolic administrator, time is ticking for Francis to appoint Wuerl's successor.
Archbishop Gregory would be a controversial choice, given his history of scandals and his past affiliations with laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and now-deceased Cdl. Joseph Bernardin.