Vatican: Francis Continues to Watch Abuse Response in Chile

Pope Francis held a meeting on the abuse scandal in Chile on Friday.

Pope Francis at the general audience Jan. 31.
Pope Francis at the general audience Jan. 31. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis held a meeting on the abuse scandal in Chile and will continue to follow the actions of the country’s bishops’ conference in response to the crisis, the Vatican Press Office said Friday.

According to press office vice director Paloma Garcia, Francis is following “with interest” the response of the Chilean bishops and “has expressed his desire to continue to clarify all the questions in order to give a just answer to everyone.”

The Pope met with Bishop Juan Ignacio González of San Bernardo and Ana María Celis Brunet, president of the Chilean National Council for the Prevention of Abuse, in the Vatican’s Santa Marta House Aug. 10.

An attorney, Celis was appointed to the position in early August by the Chilean bishops, during a weeklong meeting to consider the roots of the crisis of sexual abuse in the Church in their country and to define guidelines to implement in their dioceses.

The Vatican statement on their meeting said the aim was “to get information and exchange views on the steps being taken in Chile to deal with cases of abuse and to prevent them from happening again.”

The conversation also referenced the suffering of victims and the need to provide “consolation and reparation.”   

Friday’s meeting follows similar encounters the Pope conducted over the last few months with victims of abuses which occurred at Father Fernando Karadima’s Sacred Heart parish in Santiago.

Father Karadima, a Chilean priest who committed sexual abuse and abuse of power and conscience, was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011 of abusing minors and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. He has not been sentenced by civil courts because of Chile’s statute of limitations.

A sacerdotal association that Father Karadima had led, the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart, was suppressed within a year of his conviction.

Last week Pope Francis wrote to the Chilean bishops’ conference to express his approval of their newly adopted plan to prevent future instances of sex abuse within the Church.

“I was impressed by the work of reflection, discernment and decisions that you have made,” the Pope wrote in his Aug. 5 letter to Bishop Santiago Jaime Silva Retamales of Chile’s military diocese, who is president of the Chilean bishops’ conference.

Francis was responding to the Aug. 3 statement issued at the conclusion of the weeklong meeting of the Chilean bishops to address the sex-abuse crisis.

The bishops acknowledged they had failed in their duty as pastors in the face of the cases of sexual abuse committed by priests and presented some short- and medium-term measures in order to determine the truth and to secure justice and reparation for the victims.

In addition, police seized documents and equipment from the office of the bishop of Chile's military diocese Thursday as part of an investigation into accusations that Church officials in the country covered up clerical sexual abuse.

Personnel from Chile's Carabineros arrived at the headquarters Aug. 9 in Santiago with a court order from the O'Higgins Regional Prosecutor's Office. The offices of eight senior Church officials have been raided as part of the investigation, according to Reuters.

Chile's military diocese was led from 2004 to 2015 by Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid. Attention to clerical sex abuse has heightened since Bishop Barros' 2015 transfer to the Diocese of Osorno. Bishop Barros had been accused of covering up abuses committed by Father Karadima.

In a statement, the military diocese said it turned over the requested documents and equipment and expressed its willingness to cooperate in the investigative process “in everything that is required.”

According to the Public Prosecutor's Office, prosecutor Mariano Arias ordered the raid because the investigations "indicate that a cover-up by the military diocese may have been committed," considering that the head of this office must report these incidents in his capacity as a public official of the armed forces.

The raid was authorized by the Chilean defense minister and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Bishop Silva Retamales of the military diocese was outside Chile at the time of the raid. 

As part of the investigation, the Rancagua Regional Prosecutor's Office summoned Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago to testify Aug. 21 concerning his possible responsibility for the crime of cover-up in cases of sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience.

On Aug. 9, the Archdiocese of Santiago reported that Cardinal Ezzati would be hospitalized for two days for a routine checkup following the insertion of a pacemaker in March.

On June 13 and July 12 the O'Higgins Regional Prosecutor's Office seized documents of the Diocese of Rancagua and the Santiago archdiocese respectively in the process of this investigation.

Other dioceses, including Villarica and Temuco, also were the targets of orders to seize their files as a result of the investigations being conducted on sexual abuse. Files from the Archdiocese of Santiago have been seized on two occasions.

On Aug. 9, the Diocese of Talca reported a new complaint of sexual abuse against Father Luciano Arriagada Vergara, who was in charge of the diocesan youth ministry.

Following the accusation, a preliminary investigation was initiated in order to determine the credibility of the allegation. A complaint was also filed with the regional prosecutor's office.   

The diocese stated that while this process is going on, the accused is barred from the public exercise of priestly ministry.

The military-diocese portion of this article was originally published by CNA's sister agency, ACI Prensa. It was translated and adapted by CNA.