ROSARIO, Argentina – Despite being at the heart of a clerical sexual abuse crisis rocking the Catholic Church in Chile, the president of the bishops’ conference, Santiago Silva, who’s been subpoenaed on charges of cover-up, has decided to skip a Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit to address the issue and send the conference’s secretary instead.
Silva is one of the eight Chilean bishops who’ve been called in by the prosecutor’s office, but one of the few in this group who’s still heading a diocese. Most of those bishops have been removed by Pope Francis since May, when all the bishops of Chile submitted their resignations.
Also among those being investigated by civil authorities, but who remains as the head of a diocese, is Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago. The pontiff is expected to accept his resignation in upcoming months.
Sources have told Crux that a possible replacement has been identified, but seeing how complex the situation is, Francis wants to make sure the man tasked with leading a church that’s been rocked by scandal for almost a decade is the right person.
The critical situation of the Church in Chile, together with the scandals that arose in the United States over the summer, including the case of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who’s been credibly accused of abusing both minors and seminarians, and the findings of the Pennsylvania report, is what led Francis to summon all the heads of bishops’ conferences and Eastern churches in communion with Rome to the Vatican for a three-day meeting in February.
Abuse survivors in Chile had asked for Silva not to attend the meeting in representation of Chile, but at least some aren’t satisfied with the man tasked with replacing him, Fernando Ramos.
Silva testified last October. In November, when the bishops had their plenary assembly, he offered his resignation as president of the conference, but the rest of the prelates decided not to accept it.
At that point, it had also been decided that Silva would attend the February meeting and according to what several sources in Chile told Crux, the idea of at least a group of the bishops traveling to Rome to express their frustrations about the way the pope has dealt with the crisis was floated, as they believe he treated them “unfairly.”
Speaking with Chilean newspaper La Tercera, Ramos said it was Silva who asked him to go to Rome in February because the meeting is “an important encounter called for by the Holy Father,” and Silva’s decision is an attempt to avoid that “the focus is placed on another kind of analysis or commentary that can be tied to the figure of the president.”
Ramos was one of the two bishops chosen to speak with the press last May, when the bishops were summoned to Rome by Francis for a two-day meeting.
Though canonically speaking a pope has three months to accept an episcopal resignation before it becomes invalid, the fact that Francis accepted two in September suggests that the resignations were “pastoral” in tone and not constraining the pope to a specific time frame.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor who was abused by former priest Fernando Karadima – who was defrocked this year, after being sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer in 2011 – took to Twitter to express his discontent with the selection of Ramos.
“Bishop Ramos, who treats the pope as someone who doesn’t understand because, according to Ramos, the pope is ‘Argentinian,’ a bishop who angrily goes with others in secret and [is quick] to challenge the pope because ‘the pope treated us badly.’ Hypocrite!”
Cruz is one of the three survivors of Karadima who were received by Francis earlier this year, after the pontiff ignored them for years when they said that Bishop Juan Barros, whom the pontiff appointed to a small diocese, had covered up for their abuser.
On Thursday, Cruz and survivor José Andrés Murillo, who also met with the pope, testified in the city of Rancagua against Ezzati and Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, emeritus of Santiago, who’s also been identified by victims as guilty of cover-up.
“We spoke about many cases, but mainly about a pattern of cover-up, which is literally a criminal organization headed by Errazuriz, Ezzati and several others,” Cruz said after giving witness.
According to him, the evidence that the investigation has collected is so much that “I wouldn’t be surprised that some believed to be innocent pigeons end up in jail, and I’m glad.”
Murillo agreed, saying there’s a “pattern of conduct repeated each time, and that shows cover-up.”
“The contradiction and the lying have been exposed,” he added.
Cruz had words of praise for Francis, saying that even though he’d like to see a prompter response, “I’m glad for what he’s doing, that he continues to do,” and that he’s “without a doubt removed true criminals.”