Pope Francis apologizes for clergy sex abuse in Chile: Response by Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director, BishopAccountability.org


January 16, 2018

The Pope’s words in Santiago this morning were strong but familiar. This Pope has apologized similarly before, and so have his predecessors.

What’s different is that the Pope opened his visit with this apology, rather than tucking it in later.

Expectations were high, and now they are higher. One hopes the Pope understands that an apology not followed by decisive action will deepen the crisis in Chile. The Chileans are weary of words, and they are savvy. They want Bishop Barros removed, and they see that as only a first step. Chilean bishops openly violate the Pope’s promises of zero tolerance of abuse. They insult the intelligence of Chilean Catholics and they put children at risk. These other church leaders, like Cardinal Ezzati, must also be disciplined.

If the Pope leaves Chile without committing to investigate complicit church leaders, the public’s distrust of the church will intensify. This is a crucial opportunity for Francis: with luck, he will not make the mistake of his brother bishops in underestimating the astuteness and moral outrage of the Chilean people.

Last week, BishopAccountability.org published a database of nearly 80 publicly accused clergy in Chile. While we believe these represent just a fraction of the actual total of accused Chilean clergy, the cases taken as a whole yield a striking portrait of the situation in the Chilean church. Compared to the U.S. and Australia, the Chilean church is distinctive in several respects:

a) Chilean church leaders openly reinstate priests who have been found guilty of abuse under canon or civil law, flouting the standard of zero tolerance established by the Pope. See the cases of Cristian Precht, Julio Dutilh Ros and Francisco Javier Cartes Aburto, C.M.F.

b) The database features a surprising number of superiors of religious orders, such as Pedro Mariano Labarca Araya, O. de M. (the Mercedarians ), Héctor Valdés, M.S.F.S. (the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales), and Eugenio Valenzuela, S.J. (the Jesuits, Pope Francis’ own order).

c) The database largely comprises abuse that occurred after 2000, a result of the church’s refusal to release information, Chile’s victim-hostile criminal statute of limitations, and the weakness of its tort laws. There is almost no public record of abuse that happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Click here to see BishopAccountability.org’s database (in English and Spanish):

Publicly Accused Priests, Brothers, Sisters, and Deacons in Chile

Sacerdotes, hermanos, hermanas y diáconos que han sido denunciados públicamente en Chile

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