ROME – On the Catholic calendar, Holy Week is a period of meditation on Jesus’ death and resurrection, a time for mea culpas and healing wounds. Yet in Chile, a country deeply scarred by clerical abuse scandals, several bishops being investigated for either abuse or cover-up chose Holy Week to reopen wounds instead.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of eight Chilean bishops over the past year, after all of them offered to step down last May. The country’s bishops find themselves engulfed in scandal due to decades of mismanagement, cover-up and, in some cases, personally having committed abuses. The pontiff also accused them of committing crimes connected to the abuse of minors, including destroying evidence.
Five of those bishops nonetheless showed up at Holy Week celebrations, in some cases discreetly, in others as concelebrants to the apostolic administrators Francis has appointed to replace them. That includes Bishop Gonzalo Duarte, who’s been accused not only of covering up cases of abuse but of abuse of power with sexual connotations against seminarians.
As Father Eugenio de la Fuente summarized on Twitter, during the Holy Thursday Chrism Masses celebrated in five Chilean dioceses, five bishops belonging to the “Pandora’s box” described by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the lead Vatican investigator in Chile, showed up to either to preside or concelebrate.
“It hurts, disappoints [and] wounds,” de la Fuente wrote.
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Scicluna, together with Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu, was tapped by Francis to look into the case of Bishop Juan Barros, accused by Chilean survivors of having covered up for his mentor, ex-priest Fernando Karadima. When they got there, they found the situation was worse than anticipated, which is why they returned to Rome with a file thousands of pages long.
Scicluna referred to Chile as a “Pandora’s box” when speaking with Crux last February: “I know that we opened a Pandora’s box. There are a number of cases that are being reviewed. The material that was given to us during those two missions in Chile is huge, and every case needs to be studied on its own merits and given due process.”
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Among the bishops who “retired” but who resurfaced last week is Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, removed from Santiago by Pope Francis a month ago, replaced by Bishop Celestino Aos, appointed apostolic administrator.
Ezzati, who’s being questioned for covering up cases of abuse, was present in the Chrism Mass on Thursday. The celebration, considered the first of the Holy Week celebrations, is dedicated to the local clergy.
Aos, who’s serving as apostolic administrator, meaning, he’s technically not the archbishop of Santiago, but a temporary figure, spent the past 30 days meeting with survivors of abuse, the local clergy, the homeless, the prosecutors, the pontiff and the heads of most Vatican dicasteries.
In a recent interview with Chilean newspaper La Tercera, Aos acknowledged that “mistakes” were made addressing allegations of clerical sexual abuse, including deficiencies in the treatment of cases that “aggravated the pain of the victims.”
Another bishop removed by Francis was Cristian Contreras from San Felipe. The new apostolic administrator, Bishop Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano, had him concelebrate the Chrism Mass.
Survivor Juan Carlos Cruz said on Twitter that Contreras was “fired by the pope for being an abuser and cover-upper,” and his presence at the Mass suggests they don’t “understand anything,” and are “lunatics.”
Nine bishops, including two cardinals, are in the process of testifying for the roles they played in the 164 cases of abuse currently being investigated by the local prosecutors.
In total, there are 220 priests who’ve been credibly accused of abuse, which represents 9.5 percent of the Chilean clergy. That’s above the percentage in other countries, such as the United States, Ireland or Australia, where the number of priests believed to be guilty of abusing minors oscillates between 3 and 6 percent.
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Among those testifying is Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, former archbishop of Santiago and once a member of the council of cardinals that advises Francis on the reform of the Church’s government. Testifying for some 12 hours beginning late March, the prelate had many things to say, including the fact that it’s better for there not to be gay men in the priesthood, partially blaming homosexuality for the abuse crisis.
Asked if clerical sexual abuse of minors is a crime or a sin, Errazuriz said it’s a crime, adding that’s “progress” as in the beginning they were seen as a sin, then a “psychological deformation” and, eventually, a crime.
Most of his interrogation turned on Karadima, and the fact that for years he refused to believe the allegations put forth by one of his victims; and the case of Father Diego Ossa, a disciple of Karadima who today is being investigated on several accounts of abuse both by Chilean civil authorities and the Vatican.