ROME – A top Chilean cardinal who’s been summoned by civil prosecutors to testify over allegations that he covered up clerical sexual abuse has told the priests of his archdiocese that the “crimes” of the Church have contributed to a “climate of tension” being lived in the country.
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago spoke earlier this week during a day of planning for the archdiocesan church. According to local media, he said: “We live in a moment of tension at a national level and in the Church. We, the Church, have contributed to the tension with our problems and our crimes.”
“Ours is a Church that is living a special moment in its history, we live in the situation of a Church whose bishop [Ezzati himself] has already presented his resignation to the Holy Father a year and eight months ago, after reaching the age of 75, [and] who has been deprived in these last months of the service of four of his auxiliary bishops, appointed to be apostolic administrators of vacant dioceses,” Ezzati said.
The Church in Santiago, the cardinal noted, is living through “several canonical and judicial investigations, in relation to brother priests,” which is similar to what’s happening in other dioceses throughout Chile.
The four auxiliary bishops Ezzati mentions are currently serving as apostolic administrators in other dioceses, after Francis accepted the resignation of the former bishops of those places.
Among those whose resignations have been accepted are Bishop Juan Barros, long accused of having covered up for his mentor Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of sexual abuse as well as abuses of power and conscience; and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte, who’s been accused of not only covering up but of abusing seminarians himself.
The Vatican, to this day, has refused to acknowledge publicly why these resignations have been accepted.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have told Crux that more resignations are soon to be accepted, including that of Ezzati, who, as he said, is over 75, the mandatory age for a bishop to present his resignation.
Observers also said the reason Francis hasn’t actually appointed new bishops to replace the five whose resignations he’s accepted, but transferred auxiliary bishops on a temporary basis, is because he’s still trying to get an overall sense of the situation.
Ezzati was scheduled to appear at the prosecutor’s office on August 21, yet on the eve of the appointment the prosecutor’s office said that the prelate’s defense team had requested a delay to have enough time to look through the allegations.
In his message, Ezzati also referenced an 11-page letter by Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who on Sunday accused Francis of having covered up for ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick regarding sexual misconduct with seminarians.
“It was news the day before last [Sunday] that an ex-nuncio is asking for the resignation of the pope, it’s not hard to find brothers in the faith, priests, laity who are openly denouncing their bishops, their brother priests, incriminating them of abhorrent acts,” Ezzati said.
“Bishops are accused of cover-up, of crimes by laity who self-proclaim themselves ‘the Church’ and who say they have no need for shepherds. Without a doubt, all of these elements make us see that we need time, and the wisdom, of the Spirit to discern and be able to distinguish.”
Among those who’ve accused the Chilean bishops of cover-up is Francis himself, who in May gave the prelates a document in which he accused Chile’s hierarchy of destroying evidence in cases of clerical sexual abuse, pressuring Church lawyers to minimize accusations, moving priests with credible accusations of abuse to other dioceses and of “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophile priests.