Pope Laicizes Two Chilean Bishops for Sexual Abuse of Minors

The decision was issued without the possibility to appeal, the Vatican announced Oct. 13.

Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome in June.
Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome in June. (photo: CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has officially expelled two Chilean bishops from the clerical state. Both men were accused of sexual abuse of minors. The decision was issued without the possibility to appeal, the Vatican announced Oct. 13.

The Vatican announced that Francisco José Cox Huneeus, 84, archbishop emeritus of La Serena, Chile, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, 53, bishop emeritus of Iquique, Chile, were removed from the clerical state “as a consequence of manifest abuse of minors.”

Both former bishops have reportedly been living retired lives of prayer and penance for some years now.

By Vatican order, Archbishop Cox has been living at the institute of the Schönstatt Fathers, of which order he is a member, in Santiago since 2002. Bishop Fernandez retired from office in 2012 at the age of 42, due to health problems. He is believed to have retired to Peru and has not been seen publicly since 2013, according to The New York Times.

The expulsion of the two bishops comes several months after 34 sitting bishops of Chile offered their resignations to the Pope during a crisis meeting in May. That meeting followed a Vatican investigation that revealed systematic sexual abuse and cover-up among the clergy in the country.

Thus far, seven of those bishops have had their resignations accepted by the Pope.

Pope Francis launched an investigation into sexual abuse in Chile earlier this year, following multiple reports concerning Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest convicted in 2011 of the sexual abuse of minors, and against Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was accused of protecting Karadima.

In recent years, Bishop Barros had repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing of Father Karadima’s abuse, and Pope Francis initially gave the bishop his personal backing, naming him head of the Diocese of Osorno in southern Chile in 2015 and insisting he had not seen evidence of his covering up abuse, angering accusers of Bishop Barros and Father Karadima.

Karadima, 88, was a highly influential Santiago-area priest who for decades led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque. He is believed to have personally fostered around 40 vocations to the priesthood, some of whom went on to become bishops also accused of covering up abuse.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found Father Karadima guilty of the sexual abuse of minors in early 2011. A civil case against him had been dismissed due to Chile’s statute of limitations.

Following the 2011 conviction, and citing his advanced age and poor health, he was ordered by the Vatican to “retire to a life of prayer and penance, in reparation [for his crimes] as well as for the victims of abuse.” At the time, he was also prohibited from any public exercise of ministry.

In January, Francis appointed Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to lead the investigation. Archbishop Scicluna is a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and is considered an expert in the canonical process for handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

Archbishop Scicluna’s investigation resulted in a 2,300-page report that, to date, has not been made public. After receiving the report, Francis apologized for his support of Bishop Barros and asked to meet the bishops and abuse survivors in person.

The Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Barros in June, and Karadima was laicized by Francis in September.

The dismissals of the two Chilean bishops come in the midst of an ongoing canonical process concerning another archbishop, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. McCarrick is accused of sexually abusing minors and seminarians over a period of decades.