ROSARIO, Argentina – Two archbishops in Argentina are under fire for following Pope Francis’s orders in creating an office to receive allegations of clerical abuse. They are being accused of “usurpation of the role of the State, swindles and other frauds,” an allegation some described as “grotesque.”
The criminal complaint against Archbishop Eduardo Martin of Rosario and Archbishop Sergio Fenoy from nearby Santa Fe was filed after the two prelates announced the “implementation of a system for receiving allegations” of sexual crimes committed by priests and other members of the Church.
The creation of this office was mandated by Pope Francis, who asked bishops conferences to implement such a system with a new Church law released last year. Among other things, Vos estis lux mundi – “You are the light of the world” – required that every diocese must have a system that allows the public to easily submit accusations of abuse.
Martin and Fenoy announced last week that they were creating these offices, but Carlos Ensinck, president of the Bar Association of Rosario, filed the complaint arguing that the two archdioceses are trying to “supplant the Public Prosecutors’ Office, which is the body to where one must report a crime.”
According to the lawyer, the Church creating an office to report cases of abuse is equivalent “abolishing the rule of law.”
Ensinck told local newspaper La Capital that he had learned of the system for receiving reports and allegations of abuse through the website of the Archdiocese of Rosario, when it announced the creation of the new office on July 8. The office in Rosario is run by two lay women.
The lawyer says that it’s “very questionable” that Church personnel should be in charge of managing complaints against priests and other religious.
In his motu proprio of May 2019, Pope Francis specifically tells bishops “may we all be aware of the duty to report abuse to the competent authorities and to cooperate with them in prevention activities; every abuse or maltreatment of minors or vulnerable persons must be pursued by law; the victims of exploitation, sexual abuse or maltreatment and their families should have the right to be welcomed, listened to and accompanied; the victims and their families should be offered suitable pastoral care and adequate spiritual, medical, psychological and legal support; the accused should be guaranteed the right to a fair and impartial trial, including the presumption of innocence, with respect for the principles of the rule of law and proportionality in sentencing.”
As for the perpetrators of such crimes, Pope Francis stated that those convicted of “abusing a child or a vulnerable person must be removed from office and offered adequate spiritual and psychological rehabilitation, also for the purposes of re-entering society; everything must be done to rehabilitate the good name of those who have been unjustly accused.”
In a letter signed by Martin and Monsignor Emilio Cardarelli, the vicar general of the diocese of Rosario, the archdiocese says that the “implementation of the system for receiving reports” does not in any way intend to replace the office of the prosecutor in receiving criminal complaints.
The letter emphasizes that there is no attempt to substitute the “area of competence of the state,” and explains that it sought to “adopt administrative and disciplinary decisions within its own scope of action.”
The letter was read at every Mass in the archdiocese on Sunday.
The weekend statement highlights that the implementation of the new office is at the request of Pope Francis, the highest authority of the Catholic Church.
In the communication, the archdiocese stated that “the Church, as regards the possible legal consequences, abides by and assumes what Justice decides, which is the only one competent for that purpose and the one to which one must go [to file an allegation].”
Two lawyers from Rosario, both former presidents of the local bar association, released a statement on Tuesday describing the decision by Ensinck to denounce the archbishops as “inexcusable ignorance.”
“The assumption that the accused is usurping the proper functions of the State is grotesque,” says the letter signed by Ignacio Del Vecchio and Arturo Araujo. “It would have been enough to dispel that confusion – which only he has – to understand the obvious: There are two areas to judge these facts. The jurisdictional, civil or criminal one, and the internal one of the Catholic Church.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma