Before meeting with Pope, Chilean bishops vow to end abuse

Press briefing with Chilean bishops in Rome, May 14, 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Press briefing with Chilean bishops in Rome, May 14, 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA

.- Speaking on the eve of a 3-day meeting with Pope Francis about a massive clerical abuse scandal, several Chilean prelates said they are ready to listen, and to work toward eradicating sexual abuse in the Church.

In a May 14 press conference ahead of their May 15-17 meeting with Pope Francis, two leading Chilean bishops said clerical sexual abuse is “unacceptable” and “intolerable,” and is something they are committed to eradicating.

The bishops said their attitude going into meetings with the pope this week is one of “pain and shame,” and that their main goals are to listen to what Francis has to say and to find a way forward which brings both healing and reparation for victims, as well as stricter prevention measures.

In comments to the media, Bishop Fernando Ramos, auxiliary bishop of Santiago, said he and his fellow prelates feel pain because “there are victims, people, who have suffered these abuses and this causes us great pain.”

They also feel shame, he said, “because these abuses happened in ecclesial environments, the environments where these types of abuse must never happen again.”

Ramos spoke alongside Bishop Juan Ignacio González of San Bernardo at a news conference ahead of a 3-day meeting between Pope Francis and 34 Chilean prelates this week, 30 of whom are still in office.

Pope Francis summoned the bishops to Rome last month following an in-depth investigation into abuse cover-up by Church hierarchy in Chile conducted by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna earlier this year, which resulted in a whopping 2,300 page report on the investigation's conclusions.

 The investigation was centered around Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was appointed to the diocese in 2015 and who has been accused by Cruz and several others of covering up Karadima's abuses, and of participating in acts of abuse.

Allegations were also made against three other bishops – Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela – who Karadima's victims accuse of also covering the abuser's crimes.

While on the ground Scicluna interviewed some 64 people, many of whom were victims or potential victims, but the scale of the investigation went beyond Barros. It is said to be much more extensive, including details from other cases, such as the Marist Brothers, who are currently under canonical investigation after allegations of sexual abuse by some of the members surfaced in August 2017.

Pope Francis had previous 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 issued his major “mea culpa” and asked to meet the bishops and more outspoken survivors in person.

The pope's meeting with Chilean bishops will begin Tuesday, May 15 in the early afternoon as a group, and will continue over the next two days. During the discussion, Francis will focus on Scicluna’s report and is expected to share his own personal conclusions.

Pope Francis is expected to meet with the bishops as a whole, however, no Masses are planned and it is unknown whether or not he has scheduled private meetings with individual prelates.

In his comments to media, Ramos said a main goal of the encounter, apart from listening to the pope, is to discern “ways – long, medium or short – to restore reconciliation and justice.”

“This path of discernment, of listening, gives us great hope that these meetings with the pope will give us the strength and greatest availability to change and renew our Church,” he said.

Focusing on the need to make reparations, Gonzalez said that this must happen at an ecclesial level, but “the victims come first.”

Neither Ramos nor Gonzalez commented on the possibility on the culpability of certain bishops or the possibility that some would be removed from office or sanctioned, including Cardinal Javier Errazuriz – archbishop emeritus of Santiago and one of the pope's nine cardinal advisors. This decision, the prelates said, rests with the pope.

“It doesn't depend on us...each one has to discern with the pope,” Gonzalez said, adding that “it's not my job to know what path another should take.

“It's possible that the Pope has more information than us, because many people go straight to the Holy See,” he said, adding that the Church in Chile is doing what they can and have made significant progress in terms of education and formation compared to even the recent past.

Errazuriz was recently accused of a cover-up by three survivors of clerical sexual abuse from Chile – Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo – after holding individual meetings with Pope Francis at the Vatican earlier this month.

Last week Errazuriz released a statement saying he would not be present for the meeting with Pope Francis due to “personal reasons.” However, according to sources close to the situation, he landed in Rome after receiving a call from the pope himself.

When asked whether they felt they could trust the pope's judgment given his previous comments to victims and his staunch defense of Barros, Gonzalez said the pope's apology was “impressive,” and shows how a leader should act.

According to Ramos, the bishops themselves, like the pope, will also ask for forgiveness. “To ask for forgiveness is a moral imperative for us,” he said, voicing his hope that they will receive a forgiveness that allows for healing and reparation to take place. “This is our greatest desire.”

Going forward, Ramos said the meeting is a moment of pain and of shame for all bishops in Chile, and for the victims who endured abuse at the hands of priests. However, it can also be a moment of renewal for the Church, he said, noting that the Church isn't made up of just bishops, priests and religious.

The Church, he said, is composed of “the People of God,” and while it might be a complicated time for Chile, it is also an opportunity “to evangelize” and to go forward.

Part of going forward, the bishops said, is doing an “auto-critique” of ways they can improve in terms of formation, prevention, healing and reimbursement.

Prevention, Gonzalez said, “has a lot to do with the formation of our priests,” and a task of the bishops must be “to form priests from when they enter seminary until they go forward.

This training in abuse prevention is not something that was done in the past but now it is essential for seminaries, he said, explaining that he is ashamed by what has happened, “but I have a lot of hope in the future.”

However, Ramos stressed that finding the right way forward is not something that can happen in one 3-day meeting with the pope, but it will take longer. Using the words of Francis himself, he said it is a “synodal process” that everyone has to work on together with the guidance of the pope.

Referring to a letter written by Benedict XVI to Irish bishops in 2010 after the country's massive abuse crisis was uncovered, Gonzalez said Chilean prelates have all read the document, which is “a precious and beautiful text full of guidelines that we will follow or all following.”

However, the what is needed now “is to listen to Peter, to listen to the Pope...conclusions will come, new paths will come out,” he said, “the pope gives us light” indicating path to be taken.

Tags: Catholic News, Chile, Pope Francis, Bishop Juan Barros, Clerical sexual abuse