Chile Bishops Use Annual Celebration to Tackle Abuse Crisis
By Ines San Martin
September 20, 2018
|Archbishop Charles Scicluna, center, helps a parishioner to walk after a meeting with members of the Catholic community at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Osorno, Chile, Saturday, June 16, 2018. (Credit: AP Photo/Fernando Lavoz.)|
Amid a massive global clerical sexual abuse crisis, some Chilean bishops used their traditional Te Deum celebration on Tuesday to address the problem, apologizing for the scandals that led to the country’s entire episcopacy resigning en masse, while others showed no interest in a mea culpa.
Leading the service held in the cathedral of Santiago on Sept. 18 to commemorate the country’s independence, Benedictine monk Benito Rodriguez replaced Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in delivering the homily.
Ezzati has been subpoenaed by the prosecutors’ office to testify over accusations of having covered up cases of clerical sexual abuse. He announced over a month ago that he wouldn’t be presiding at, or attending, the prayer service that was followed by a Mass.
Among those in attendance was President Sebastian Pinera.
According to Rodriguez, the Church in Chile is living “moments of purification as perhaps never before in its life. We believe that, speaking from the poverty caused by it, without pretending to deny it or hide it, is also our way of contributing to the today of our history.”
“Trying to acknowledge with humility and generosity our mistakes, without expecting privileges or special treatment, without renouncing the challenge and the responsibility of a profound conversion in spirit and in truth, [we hope] to be better witnesses of that Gospel that we have received,” he continued.
It’s worth noting that his remarks came as at least seven Chilean bishops currently face charges of either covering up for clerical sexual abuse or for having sexually abused minors and vulnerable adults themselves.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of two of these bishops, with no explanation given by the Holy See as to why. In addition, several dioceses have been raided by the local prosecutor’s office looking for evidence of wrongdoing, including the archives of the Archdiocese of Santiago and the headquarters of the national bishops’ conference.
A former chancellor of Santiago is currently in protective custody after he admitted to having sexually abused minors. Though at the time the extent of his abuse was unknown, today there are over half a dozen victims who’ve come forward, a majority of whom were his own nephews.
If he weren’t in prison, Father Oscar Munoz would have been tasked with welcoming the guests in the atrium for the Te Deum, a role that according to local online portal BioBio was conducted by lay woman Francisca San Martin.
In troubled Osorno, bishop calls abuse “unacceptable”
Bishop Jorge Concha Cayuqueo, apostolic administrator of the southern diocese of Osorno and an Auxiliary of Santiago, said that in the recent past, “and through ongoing processes, the pain of many brothers and sisters who’ve suffered the abuse of power, conscience and of a sexual nature make it possible for us to grow in the consciousness that every form of abuse is unacceptable.”
“It’s an outrage on the human dignity of each person,” Concha said, “and becomes even more grave and indignant when the victims are the little and vulnerable ones.”
Speking at the local Te Deum, Concha also said that the Church is “experiencing a painful learning. In this regard, as a church in Osorno, I express our commitment to the eradication of any form of abuse and our commitment to the victims.”
Concha was tapped by Francis in June to temporarily succeed controversial Bishop Juan Barros, who’s long been accused by the victims of pedophile priest Fernando Karadima of having covered up for his mentor.
The pope had transferred Barros to Osorno in 2015, and publicly defended the bishop until January, when during a visit to Chile he said that the accusations of wrongdoing against the bishop were “calumnies.”
Since then, Francis has had a change of heart, twice sending a team from the Vatican to look into allegations that hung over local clergy. In addition, he’s summoned the entire bishops’ conference to Rome, and after three days of meeting every active bishop handed in his resignation.
Francis is expected to accept several more in upcoming months, but several sources consulted by Crux agree on the fact that he’s “having trouble” finding suitable candidates as replacements.
Barros is another of the seven bishops who’s been called to testify, not for allegedly covering up for Karadima, but for an army chaplain who’s been accused of abusing minors.
From Concepcion, a call for everyone to be involved in fighting corruption
Archbishop Fernando Chomali, who’s been rumored as a possible replacement for Ezzati and who will meet with Francis on Friday, led the Te Deum in Concepcion, in his first public appearance since the diocesan archives were raided by prosecutors last week.
“Chile has shown one of its least charitable and most perverse faces,” Chomali said. “The face of corruption and abuses. Regrettably, and I say this with pain and shame, some members of the Church have not been foreign [to this]. This is a face that we must change together. And we can do so,” he said.
However, he said, Chileans cannot allow for the “crimes of a few” to overshadow the “immense good done by so many institutions that today are being questioned.”
According to a local newspaper, a handful of people gathered at the doors of the cathedral in protest, with signs asking for an end to the impunity some priests and bishops seem to enjoy.
“The Church concentrates a power that is not healthy, and procedurally it’s not appropriate for an institution to be its own judge,” said Pablo Duran, one of the lay people who gathered on Tuesday.
As he was leaving the service, Chomali was asked by reporters to address the rumors that signal he’ll be appointed to Santiago. He said that he had “no idea” about what the pope will do, and that he had “other issues” to address with Francis.
Back in 2015, Chomali served temporarily as an apostolic administrator of Osorno.
Bishop of Copiapo: “We failed to protect children”
Bishop Celestino Aos also asked for forgiveness for the crimes committed by the Catholic Church.
“We failed to protect the children from abuse,” the bishop said. “As Catholics, we hurt and are ashamed especially for the abuses committed by priests, clergy or religious. And we failed to welcome and help victims.”
“We ask God for his forgiveness and we ask for the forgiveness of the victims and the communities,” Aos continued. “Our request for forgiveness is a commitment to correct whatever is necessary and to do as much as we can so that these events don’t occur again.”
The prelate also used the Te Deum to say that the Chilean society has failed to protect human life, noting not only the high murder rate but also the impact that partial legalization of abortion last year has had in the protection of unborn children with over 180 legal abortions reported this year.