MADRID, Spain – Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, has urged for the Catholic Church to be investigated over clerical sexual abuse, and he gave his full support to new law that ends the statutes of limitations on abuse cases.
However, when it comes to the allegations made against his uncle, the world’s oldest living bishop, he’s having a hard time believing it.
Archbishop Bernardino Piñera, who served as Archbishop of Serena from 1983-1990 after previously serving as Bishop of Temuco, is being investigated by the Vatican over allegations that he sexually abused a minor 50 years ago. The news was announced by the Holy See’s embassy in Chile on Tuesday.
Soon after, the president said: “As a nephew, I find it hard to believe because I know his behavior, his attitude over a lifetime, and I find it hard to believe a complaint that is made against a man who’s 103 years old today, over an alleged event that occurred 50 years ago.”
Despite his personal disbelief, the president urged that the investigation be continued.
Piñera’s words came during a visit to Temuco, in central Chile. Asked about his uncle, he said that his government’s position is “firm, clear and consistent: Any complaint must be rigorously investigated to verify its likelihood and to clarify the truth, and this case is no exception.”
The Vatican’s announcement only confirmed that Piñera is accused of abusing a minor, but gave no further details about the accusation.
The statement said that they reached out to the person who has filed the complaint and that, at the same time, they’re respecting the principle of the presumption of innocence.
Also on Tuesday, Archbishop Piñera issued a statement saying that he’d learned about the Vatican’s investigation against him through the press statement.
“I manifest that I am unaware of the accusation that has given rise to [the investigation] and I offer my full disposition to collaborate in the clarification of it,” the older Piñera said.
“I attest that, during my long priestly life that began in 1945, I always had impeccable behavior,” the letter concluded.
The archbishop had previously been accused by abuse survivors of covering up for his successor, former Archbishop Francisco Cox, who was removed from the priesthood by Pope Francis last year.
Though it’s unclear when Cox’s acts of abuse began, it’s been well documented that by the year 1974, when he arrived as bishop in the Chilean diocese of Chillan, Cox was already abusing minors.
From Chillan, Cox would move on to become secretary of the Vatican’s former Pontifical Council for the Family, a position he held from 1981 until 1985, when he was sent back to Chile as coadjutor bishop of La Serena, to replace Piñera. In 1987 he was tapped to organize Pope John Paul II’s visit to Chile, which allowed him to become close to then-Archbishop Angelo Sodano, papal representative in the country.
Cox was eventually named archbishop of La Serena, a position he kept until 1997, when his resignation was discreetly accepted by the Vatican. It came five years after a priest made a formal complaint to the bishops’ conference claiming he had discovered Cox having sex with a young man.
Yet until 2002, when he began living a life of “penance and prayer,” first in Switzerland and then in Germany under the care of the Schönstatt Fathers at the request of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, Cox remained semi- active, with positions in the Conference of Latin American Bishops as well as in the Vatican.
Francis has accepted the resignation of eight Chilean bishops over the past year, after all of them offered to step down in May 2018. The country’s bishops have found themselves engulfed in scandal due to decades of mismanagement, cover-up and, in some cases, personally having committed sexual abuse.
In addition, nine bishops have been summoned by the prosecutors’ office to testify on charges that they either covered up for abuse or sexually abused minors and young seminarians themselves. Among those accused of covering up abuse is Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who was removed by Francis as Archbishop of Santiago earlier this year.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
Crux is dedicated to smart, wired and independent reporting on the Vatican and worldwide Catholic Church. That kind of reporting doesn’t come cheap, and we need your support. You can help Crux by giving a small amount monthly, or with a onetime gift. Please remember, Crux is a for-profit organization, so contributions are not tax-deductible.