La Croix International
January 29, 2019
By Marie Malzac
The two men have long shared similar concerns, particularly for the poor. This is the first of a seven-part series profiling heads of bishops’ conferences.
Aged 72, Bishop Oscar Vicente Ojea has known Pope Francis for many years. Indeed, in 2006 he was appointed as auxiliary bishop to Jorge Bergoglio, the then archbishop of Buenos Aires.The two men have long shared similar concerns, particularly for the poor. In this sense, Bishop Ojea of San Isidro, not far from the Argentine capital, is a leading disciple of Pope Francis, who has complete confidence in him.
During the World Youth Day events in Panama, the two men were observed discussing informally for more than a quarter of an hour during an official event.
In another indication of their ties, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Ojea as a member of the pre-Synodal council responsible for preparing the Synod of Bishops special assembly on Amazonia, which will take place in October despite the fact that Argentina is not geographically involved.
Same wavelength as Pope Francis
Since his appointment as the head of the Argentine Bishops Conference (CEA) in autumn 2017, “all leaders of the Argentinean episcopate at national level are now on exactly the same wavelength as Pope Francis,” said Hernan Reyes Alcaide, a Vatican specialist with the archdiocesan Curia in Buenos Aires.
Bishop Ojea was appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of San Isidro in 2009 prior to becoming its bishop in 2011.The same year he was appointed president of the Episcopal Commission for Caritas Argentina while Cardinal Bergoglio was still leading the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. In this capacity, Bishop Ojea began to acquire a good understanding of the situation of dioceses across the country.
A scandal on a large scale
In 2016, Argentina found itself facing a large scale sexual abuse scandal although this occurred prior to Bishop Ojea’s election as the head of the CEA.This was the scandal involving the Provolo Institute, an establishment for deaf-mute children located at the foot of the Andean cordillera in the Diocese of Mendoza.
A series of testimonies impugned two priests of rape and sexual abuse that took place over a period of several years and which were allegedly covered up by a Japanese nun. All three are now awaiting trial. According to several victims, the pope also neglected alerts dating from 2008.
In any event, the affair genuinely shocked the Argentine bishops. Under fire from critics, the Argentine Catholic Church responded by establishing a “Pastoral Council for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults.”
In June that year, a seminar on sexual abuse was also held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina at Buenos Aires.This provided an opportunity for the Argentine bishops to offer a mea culpa for their poor management of the matter.
The Bishop Zanchetta case
Recently, the Argentine Church was again rocked by the problem case of Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who was appointed by Pope Francis to the Vatican in 2017 to a post specially created for him after he resigned from the Diocese of Orán in murky circumstances.This affair may also raise questions over the pope’s action since accusations of financial as well as sexual abuse have emerged concerning the bishop, who is now the subject of a preliminary investigation.
Like Pope Francis, Bishop Ojea knows Bishop Zanchetta very well, having taken part in his episcopal consecration.This affair somewhat resembles the case of Bishop Juan Barros, who was appointed by Pope Francis to the Chilean Diocese of Osorno despite accusations that he had covered up sexual abuse.
In January 2018, Pope Francis characterized the new accusations against Bishop Barros as “calumnies” before sending a special envoy to Chile to investigate the issue.
Soon after, in a letter addressed to the Chilean faithful, the pope recognize having “made serious errors in the evaluation and perception of the situation.”
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