ROME – Although a decision had been expected, it was still a surprise when the Vatican announced Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile, who faces allegations of having covered up cases of clerical sexual abuse.
However, Ezzati was defiant to the end, saying he wasn’t ashamed of anything.
“I leave with my head up high because every allegation that has arrived at the complaints office, that I opened myself in 2011, has been or is being investigated,” Ezzati told reporters after the announcement was made.
Regarding his willingness to cooperate with the Chilean justice system, the prelate said that the prosecutor had been allowed to examine any archdiocesan document he’d requested, and that he hasn’t testified yet because he’s appealing to his right to remain silent until the time to speak comes.
“Without a doubt [the abuse crisis] has been the most painful part of this time,” Ezzati said. “But as I said, every allegation has been confronted and we’ll have to see what the justice system says. It’s not enough to accuse someone of covering up; it has to be proven.”
Earlier in the day, during the opening of Santiago’s pastoral year, the cardinal said that Francis had sent him a letter announcing his decision, in which the pontiff allegedly said: “Thank you for your example of strength. Thank you for remaining in this time of desolation awaiting your replacement.”
“Today, as I conclude my service, with my conscience very much at ease and serene, I can tell you that I have been faithful to that promise, beyond the fragility in my lucidity and of the conscience that has to be very illuminated to make the right decisions,” Ezzati said.
The cardinal, who on Friday had a local court refuse his request to dismiss the case against him for covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse, also said that he was thankful for the fact that the pope had accepted his resignation, something which, as he noted, arrived two years after he turned 75, the mandatory age for every bishop to present his resignation.
Ezzati, together with every Chilean bishop, also presented his resignation to Francis last May, after he accused them of covering up instances of abuse, destroying evidence and of abuse of power and of conscience.
His temporary replacement, chosen to fill the role as apostolic administrator, is Spanish Bishop Celestino Aós Braco, who has lived in Chile since the 1980s. His position is temporary, while the pope considers Ezzati’s successor.
He too spoke on Saturday, after the announcement was made, saying that this is not “the time for words and condemnation; it’s the time to cooperate, for each one of us to give who we are and what we can, even if it’s little and small, as is my case.”
Aós Braco also quoted a letter from Francis to the bishops of Chile, in which he had written that “the renewal of the ecclesial hierarchy, in itself, doesn’t generate the transformation to which the Holy Spirit leads us to. It’s demanded of us that we jointly promote an ecclesial transformation that involves us all.”
He said that he’d want to “give a hug” to each suffering person in Santiago: “The ill, those who’ve been in an accident, the elderly and marginalized, the unemployed and migrants, those deprived of their freedom and, especially, the victims of violence and the victims wounded by the abuses committed by members of the Church.”
Survivors of clerical sexual abuse are divided regarding the pope’s decision.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told Crux that during his years as the diocesan promoter of justice in Valparaiso, Aós Braco allegedly mishandled abuse allegations presented by ex-seminarians against five priests in 2012.
Several people told Crux that the apostolic administrator of Santiago is the “worst” choice the pope could make, while others have gone to Twitter to say that “anything is better than Ezzati.”