ROSARIO, Argentina – Five Chilean bishops travelled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis on Monday, trying to rebuild relations between the local hierarchy and the Vatican after the entire local episcopacy was forced in May to submit their resignations to the pope, and came away calling that effort a “long process.”
“It’s a long process,” the secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Fernando Ramos, told reporters on Monday after meeting with Francis. “All institutions in Chile have lost a lot of credibility, the Church included, not just for cultural reasons but because of our own sins and crimes that were committed inside the Church.”
“It was a very fraternal dialogue, very fruitful and very interesting,” Ramos told reporters.
Ramos will be replacing Bishop Santiago Silva, president of the bishops’ conference, in an upcoming Feb. 21-24 meeting of presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences in Rome. Silva was subpoenaed by civil authorities on charges of covering up clerical sexual abuse of minors.
The meeting scheduled for mid-morning Rome time went on for an hour instead of the allocated 30 minutes, and the six men shared lunch afterwards. Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, archbishop of Santiago, the country’s capital, who’s also been subpoenaed, was present.
The five-member permanent committee of the Chilean bishops’ conference requested Monday’s meeting to brief Francis on its efforts to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the South American country and chart a future course. The idea to call for the summit came after the bishops had their general assembly back in November.
This is the first time so many Chilean bishops encountered the pope since May, when all of them handed their resignations to him. According to Ramos, the resignations expired, but as Crux has previously reported, the two-page resignation every bishop signed was pastoral in tone. Despite what Church law says about the three-month deadline for the pope to accept a resignation, in the case of the Chilean bishops it isn’t so. As a matter of fact, Francis accepted two of the seven resignations he’s greenlighted in September, after the deadline expired.
“We did a review, together with the pope, of the important events in the Chilean Church in the last year, it was a very precise and lucid dialogue, with very important contributions from the pope,” he continued.
“Following this year and the next one of ecclesial discernment, to conclude the year 2020 with an ecclesial assembly, the pope made us several interesting suggestions that show a great concern and affection for the Chilean Church,” he said.
Speaking with the Vatican’s news site, Ramos also said that the bishops are working in a “very careful way,” conscious of the fact that they must “follow a path of welcoming and dialogue with the victims of sexual abuse and were working on this.”
For this reason, he said he believes the February meeting will be very important for the universal Church as it will help local churches to act with clarity and in a smart way over these situations that are “very grave crimes.”
Ahead of that meeting, the Vatican has asked for those who will participate to meet with survivors and victims of clerical sexual abuse in their own countries. In the case of the United States, there will be three prelates in attendance, all cardinals: Daniel DiNardo, of Galveston-Huston, president of the bishops’ conference; Sean O’Malley of Boston, head of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors; and Blase Cupich, of Chicago, tapped by Francis to help put the meeting together.
Though the Chilean Church is far from being the only one facing a crisis, many observers believe it’s perhaps the most complicated one, as in no other country have eight of 34 bishops been summoned by authorities on charges of cover-up. Two face charges of sexually abusing minors and seminarians themselves.