La Croix International
January 30, 2019
By Marie Malzac
Bishop Santiago Silva, implicated for allegedly failing to report accusations of sexual harassment, will not take part in the summit on sexual abuse at the Vatican
Bishop Fernando Ramos, the secretary general of the Chilean Episcopal Conference, will travel to Rome for the Vatican sexual abuse summit in place of conference president, Bishop Santiago Silva, who is accused of having covered up sexual abuse. This is the second of a seven-part series profiling heads of bishops’ conferences.
The earthquake that struck the Chilean Church in 2018 continues to rumble on. A year after Pope Francis’ voyage to the South American nation, the Chilean bishops are in the process of completely re-organizing themselves in the wake of the revelations of the Church’s egregious management of sexual abuse cases.
Over this period, several bishops have resigned, judicial action has been launched and the mechanisms of silence exposed.The Chilean example has become emblematic of the silence and dysfunction that has characterized the handling of sexual abuse in the church.
One consequence of these events is that the president of the Chilean Episcopal Conference (CECh), Bishop Santiago Silva, will not take part in the summit on sexual abuse at the Vatican convoked by Pope Francis from February 21-24.
An investigation has now implicated Bishop Silva for allegedly failing to report accusations of sexual harassment made by a former seminarian, who says that he confided the facts to him during the 1960s when Silva was still a theology professor.
Prosecutors also interviewed Bishop Silva, who is now the bishop for the military, for more than five hours in October over allegations concerning his management of another case involving an army chaplain.
In addition, he was questioned about several other episodes, notably when he was auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Valparaiso and rector of the pontifical seminary of San Rafael.
As a result, Bishop Fernando Ramos, secretary general of the CECh, will take the place of Bishop Silva at the Rome summit at the request of the latter, who has nevertheless remained president of the conference.
In an interview with the Chilean press at the end of December, Bishop Ramos explained that the decision would ensure that “attention will focus on… analyses and commentary linked to the president.”
Pope Francis’ trip to Chile marked a turning point in his pontificate after his January 2018 visit turned to disaster. The pope had defended Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was suspected of covering up the sexual abuse of Fernando Karadima, a former priest and sexual predator.
This provoked an outcry that forced the pope to look deeper into the matter sending a special envoy to Chile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who was tasked with gathering testimonies.
The results of this investigation caused an about face in his attitude as well as triggering an earthquake in the whole Chilean Church, the grave dysfunction of which emerged clearly.
In May, the pope summonsed all Chilean bishops to Rome for an unprecedented meeting to share and discuss Archbishop Scicluna’s conclusions.
Archbishop Scicluna’s report noted that the facts reported to the bishops “were superficially regarded as improbable even when there were serious indices of crime” while other cases “were investigated with delay or even never investigated.”
Based on Scicluna’s findings, Pope Francis also hit out at “pressure exercised on those who were responsible for the conduct of criminal prosecutions” as well as “the destruction of compromising documents by those responsible for ecclesiastical archives.”
Block resignation of the Chilean bishops
Following this meeting, the Chilean bishops presented their resignations en masse to the pope. To date, Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of seven, including Bishop Barros.
The scandal has now impacted the Chilean Catholic Church at the highest levels since Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago is currently the subject of an investigation by Chilean prosecutors – along with six other bishops – for cover up of abuse.
Going beyond the issue of the cover up of sexual abuse cases, the scandal has also shed light on the dysfunction with respect to the information transmitted to the pope.
In mid-January, Pope Francis received the leaders of the Chilean bishops in audience for an update on the re-organization process since last year’s meeting.
Prevention and accompanying victims
Born in 1959 in the Chilean capital and ordained a priest in 1989, Bishop Ramos, who will now represent Chile at the Summit called by the pope, did not live in his country during the worst years of the sexual abuse omerta.
Sent to Rome to continue his studies in 1993, he then worked in the Congregation for Bishops until 2007 before returning to Santiago.The same year, he was appointed rector of the Pontifical Chilean Seminary. In 2011, Cardinal Ezzati appointed him as his first episcopal vicar in Santiago.
During this period, Bishop Ramos was also appointed as a member of the National Council for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse on Minors and Accompanying Victims created by the Chilean Episcopal Conference.
In 2014, he became auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Santiago, and was elected secretary general of the CECh in 2017.
Following the resignation of Bishop Alejandro Goic, Rancagua, Ramos was appointed apostolic administrator of the diocese, which is currently in a “complicated situation.”
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