Pope Tells Chilean Bishops: Serve Christ in Victims of Abuse

By Elise Harris
National Catholic Register
May 17, 2018

Pope Francis with Chilean bishops at the Vatican, on May 17. (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis thanked Chile’s bishops for their “frank” dialogue during a 3-day Vatican meeting on the Chilean abuse scandals, and asked them to focus on serving abuse victims as they return to their dioceses and prepare to implement short and long term resolutions.

“After these days of prayer and reflection I invite you to continue building a prophetic Church, which knows how to put what is important at the center: service to the Lord in the hungry, the prisoner, the migrant and the abused,” the Pope said in a letter to Chilean bishops.

Published May 17, the letter was given to each of the bishops by Pope Francis during their final meeting earlier that evening.

He thanked the bishops for their presence and for the “frank discernment” they carried out in terms of how to face the “serious acts that have damaged ecclesial communion and weakened the work of the Church in Chile in recent years.”

“In light of these painful events regarding abuse — of minors, of power and of conscience — we have delved into the severity of these [abuses] as well as in the tragic consequences they have had, particularly for the victims,” he said.

Francis reiterated his heartfelt apology to the bishops and the victims, saying he is close to them and is united with them in “one single will and with the firm intention to repair the damages done.”

He also thanked the bishops for the desire they expressed to both adhere to and collaborate in the changes and resolutions that have to be implemented going forward, which will happen on a short, medium and long-term scale in order to “restore justice and ecclesial communion.”

The three-day gathering between the Pope and the 34 Chilean bishops began Tuesday with a day of prayer, and closed Thursday at 6:30pm, according to a Vatican communique.

Pope Francis summoned the prelates to Rome last month following an in-depth investigation into abuse cover-up by Church hierarchy in Chile. The investigation was conducted by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, resulting in a 2,300-page report on the situation.

The investigation was initially centered around Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was appointed to the diocese in 2015 and who has been accused by at least one victim of covering up the abuses of Chilean priest Fernando Karadima.

In 2011, Karadima was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith of abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and solitude.

Allegations were also made against three other bishops — Andres Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela — whom Karadima’s victims accuse of also covering the abuser’s crimes.

In the past, Francis had defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop’s guilt, and called accusations against him “calumny” during a trip to Chile in January. However, after receiving Scicluna’s report, Francis apologized and asked to meet the bishops and more outspoken survivors in person.

In comments to EWTN News Nightly, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo said the Pope was very welcoming to each of them, and had voiced concern about the expenses of their trip, as some bishops come from poorer dioceses.

After reflecting on the text they were given the first day, which Gonzalez said was an ecclesial text “on the mission that the Church in Chile has,” each of the bishops was invited in following sessions to share their thoughts about the text and what struck them.

“The theme of the retreat is more of an ecclesial, theological theme which puts Christ in the center again, those things that we may have forgotten, the other things we have to continue doing,” he said, explaining that all of the bishops, including Barros, were able to speak.

Pope Francis himself didn’t say much apart from a few simple things, Gonzalez said, one of which was a comment that the problems they are facing “are not like the problem of Jonah: we’re not throwing Jonah down so he gets eaten by the whale while we continue surfing.”

Naturally the Pope will have decisions to make and there will be resolutions, but those will come later, the bishop said, adding that the time they had was one of discernment and returning to their heart of their mission, which is Christ.

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