Forced resignations of Catholic bishops, justice by teardrop

Los Ángeles Press [Ciudad de México, Mexico]

July 8, 2023

By Rodolfo Soriano-Núñez

The one-hundred Catholic bishops forced to resign, a measure of how hard is for the victims to get justice from the Catholic Church. English Edition

One hint of sexual abuse are the “early” resignations of Catholic bishops, since a Dutch serving in Zambia did it in 1958.

Religion and public life: Lack of official information regarding the resignation of Catholic bishops feeds a perverse “guessing game” eroding the trust in the Church.

Countries with better performing systems of justice and more independent media, such as Canada, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and France provide a better context for victims to achieve a measure of relief, a measure of justice.

It has been a long process. Major changes in key principles of civil law have happened in such countries. We have witnessed the reports coming from Grand Juries in Pennsylvania and reports from the General Attorney in Illinois, and other jurisdictions in the United States.

In the United States we have also witnessed the use of the so-called look-back windows. Those devices allow victims to file complaints despite the expiration of the statute of limitation. Even the very idea of the statute of limitations has been scrapped from the law in some countries.

All sorts of commissions have been formed in Canada, Australia, and Europe, although their quality is uneven. The Canadian Winter Commission paved the way on this issue. Other commissions have provided thorough and helpful reports. the most notable the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia. The commissions in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, and Portugal offered also valuable information.

However, a major disappointment came from Spain, where the commission set up by the national conference of Catholic bishops was headed by Javier Cremades, a member of the Opus Dei.

In Italy both the civil authorities and the national conference of bishops have avoided any consideration of a commission to probe the crisis of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

There have been changes also in the kind of evidence that is accepted in civil and penal trials related to sexual abuse, and even in the procedures that must be followed to accept victims’ testimonies, as to prevent re-victimization and facilitate that no more victims are affected by predatory sexual behavior.

Not in Latin America

In Latin America that has not happened. In Chile, the best case in that region as far as the public debate of the issue is concerned, the improvements have been limited to erasing the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases. The many calls from the victims and victims’ associations go unheard by a government already overwhelmed by other issues on its agenda.

In Mexico, the changes are slower in reach and nature. In some of the 32 states or local jurisdictions, the statute of limitations has been erased, but major roadblocks remain.

Recently, 1980s and 1990s singer and fashion icon Sasha Sokol, won a civil case against her predator, Luis de Llano, who used to be the producer of Timbiriche, the band she was part of. However, hers is an extremely rare case, not related to clergy sexual abuse, that cannot be rendered as an example of the normal kind of treatment victims of sexual abuse, clergy or otherwise, receive in Mexico.

In Argentina, some predator priests and their accomplices have been brought to justice, as in the case of the Instituto Próvolo, a religious order originally dedicated to helping deaf children. In that case, on top of the abuse perpetrated by priests, a couple of nuns also participated of the sexual abuse of the children entrusted to their care, as did laypersons employed by the religious order to run its facilities.

They were found guilty and currently are in jail but, as in Sokol’s case in Mexico, that was a rather extreme case, and cannot be used as an example of justice for victims of sexual abuse in Argentina.

And yes, some aspects of the sexual abuse crisis are debated all over Latin America, more so in recent additions to the crisis, such as Bolivia and Colombia, and some minor changes have happened.

However, the fundamentals of a model based on keeping report and denunciation as low as possible, not only for the benefit of the Church, but also for the benefit of other institutions affected by this type of crime, and for the benefit of the governments themselves, remain in place.

Peruvian extremes

There is, of course the extreme case of Peru, where journalists and victims are actively threatened with defamation lawsuits and other instruments of a rather perverse “lawfare”.

In Latin America, by far the worst-case scenario has been, for the last two decades, Peru. The Andean nation has witnessed the hunting of journalists Paola UgazDaniel YoveraPedro Salinas, among others. At great personal risk, they have published stories, books, documentaries, radio, and TV stories depicting the extent of the abuse perpetrated by the leaders of the so-called Sodalitium of Christian Life, as it is known in the English-speaking world, or Sodalicio, as it is known in the Spanish-speaking world.

Despite some promises made by top officials of the Peruvian Catholic Church during Pope Francis’s pontificate, the journalists who have published stories on the abuse at the Sodalicio do their jobs “under the gun”, as targets of groups that render themselves as “concerned citizens” with the abuses perpetrated by “out-of-control media”, and who threaten and even physically attack whoever publishes stories they dislike.

That is the case of the so-called La Resistencia, among many others occupying the far-right pole of the Peruvian political spectrum. Others are not members of a group, but they have documented connections with the Sodalicio, or the network of private firms, schools and colleges owned directly or indirectly by them.

English Edition

The clergy sexual abuse crisis at forty with 100 bishops out of office

Yovera became a target of a years-long “lawfare” campaign after he wrote and produced a documentary originally aired in 2016 by the English-speaking service of Al-Jazeera, that can be found at the end of this page. His film provides a detailed account of the web of firms controlled by the Sodalicio, and how their impunity is preserved by a web of political favors and economic relations with other members of the Peruvian elites.

Brazil recently celebrated the publication of a book offering a detailed account of some of the cases of clerical sexual abuse there. Its authors, Fábio Gusmão and Giampaolo Morgado Braga, identified 148 victims of 108 priests, numbers the authors themselves consider low. With a population of 123 million, Brazil ranks as the world’s most populous Catholic country.

In some cases, isolated victims have been awarded symbolic sums that some of them diligently donate to their charities of choice, as Sokol did in Mexico, but the balkanization of the victims, the difficulties they face to organize and challenge both their predators, the institutions supporting the predators, and the civil authorities, are major roadblocks in the search for justice.

Silencing the victims was, at least up until the early 2010s the standard practice in Latin America. After all, the chances of class action lawsuits and look back windows, as they have happened elsewhere, are hard to expect any time in the future. Also, it is important to keep in mind that, in countries like Mexico, only seven percent of all the crimes in the country are ever reported to the authorities.

Today, I am releasing a spreadsheet file with the information on 110 bishops who have been forced to resign since the late 1950s, starting with Joost (Joseph) Van den Biesen, who was a member of the so-called Missionaries of Africa, also known as “White Fathers”. He was the vicar apostolic of Abercorn, Zambia. He resigned his position in 1958 and, nine years later, was laicizied by Pope Paul VI

Not all of them have resigned because of their role in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, but there have been others, like Australian Cardinal George Pell who is not included in this database, despite the allegations regarding his role in covering up abuse in Australia. But since the Church does not provide enough information on why its bishops resign their charges, it is impossible to provide an accurate account of said resignations.

In some cases, figuring out who resigned because of their role in the crisis is easy, as with Juan Barros Madrid, the former Bishop of Osorno, Chile. With others it has been only after their death that some details emerge regarding their role in the crisis.

What emerges is the perverse guessing game we are in now. Such game erodes the trust in the Church and its leadership. In any case, it is my best guess based on roughly ten years of research on this issue.

Next week, I will go over the details of the 100 bishops that I believe have resigned because of their role in this crisis.

The file I am releasing today has two sheets with the same information in both Spanish and English. I would be happy to receive feedback on those included and who is missing in this database can send me an email here. The file can be downloaded here.