SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s Catholic Church has apologized for a set of conduct guidelines for priests dealing with children that has caused outrage just as the South American country is being rocked by a widespread clerical sex abuse scandal.
The recommendations include asking priests not to “touch the area of the genitals or the chest” of minors, kiss them on the mouth, spank them on the buttocks or “lie down to sleep next to boys, girls or teenagers.” Priest are told to “avoid some behaviors,” including taking photographs of a child, teen or vulnerable person when they’re naked because it could be “misinterpreted.”
The document published on the site of the archbishopric of Santiago was signed by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati. He is under investigation by prosecutors for allegedly covering up years of abuse, and is expected to be questioned on Wednesday.
The guidelines were expected to come into effect in April 2019. But after a flurry of criticism, the Chilean Church removed the document shortly after it was published Friday.
“We’ve made a mistake and we’re going to fix it,” Auxiliary Santiago Bishop Cristian Roncagliolo said. “A crime is a crime.”
The so-called “Guidelines fomenting the good treatment and healthy pastoral coexistence” do not mention sex abuse. They refer to “painful acts” or “equivocal signs.”
Jaime Coiro, the spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference, issued a statement asking Chileans to refer to guidelines for the prevention of abuse against minors published in 2015 that he said were distributed nationwide.
But some victims and activists say they’re still shocked by the lack of sensitivity in a country where Pope Francis has acknowledged that he had underestimated the pervasiveness of pedophile priests and other Church abuse.
“This is a bizarre and frightening document. It reveals the dangerous mindset of the Chilean bishops,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org.
“Even in this era of supposed penitence and reform, they remain weirdly removed from healthy social norms of child protection,” she said. “The recommendations give us a window into the rationalizations of Cardinal Ezzati in particular. They show his apparent inability to be horrified at behavior that constitutes child molestation.”
Some advocates for victims say the recent guidelines should have instead stipulated that priests who practice these abhorrent behaviors will be removed permanently from ministry and reported to law enforcement.
“This so-called handbook published by the archdiocese … is an embarrassment,” said Jaime Concha, who says he was 12 years old when he was raped by a member of the Marist Brothers order in Chile during a boy scout field trip in the 1970s. “It describes actions that are violations of human rights of children and teenagers like me who are victims of clerical abuse.”
Chilean prosecutors say there are more than 120 ongoing investigations into clerical sex abuse of minors.
The pope has criticized Chile’s bishops for destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring Church lawyers to minimize accusations and neglecting to protect children from pedophile priests.
The Catholic Church is struggling to recover from its poor handling of the sex abuse scandal in Chile, which was sparked earlier this year when Francis repeatedly discredited victims of Father Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious predator.
Francis eventually admitted to “grave errors in judgment” and took steps to make amends. They include securing offers of resignation from every active member of Chile’s bishops’ conference. To date, he has accepted seven of the more than 30 resignations offered.
Francis also recently defrocked Karadima who has been a main character in the global sex abuse scandal that threatens his papacy.
AP video journalist Mauricio Cuevas contributed to this report. Henao reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.