ROSARIO, Argentina – A former powerful Chilean archbishop removed from the priesthood by Pope in 2018 died Wednesday, without ever facing trial for allegation of sexually abusing minors.
The news of Francisco José Cox’s passing was announced by the Schoenstatt Fathers, his original religious order. He was 86.
Cox was first bishop of Chillan, between 1975 and 1981, and the archbishop of La Serena between 1990 and 1997. In between, he worked at the Vatican’s former Pontifical Council for the Family and in 1987 was tapped to organize the visit of St. John Paul II to Chile, which allowed him to become close to then-Archbishop Angelo Sodano, the papal representative in the country.
To this day, many observers point to Sodano, who would become the Vatican’s Secretary of State during the final years of John Paul’s papacy, as the architect of the abuse crisis that has rocked the Chilean Church.
Cox was 86 when he died early in the morning on Aug. 12, from “respiratory failure and multisystemic failure,” according to the statement by Schoenstatt.
He was buried the same day, with only his four brothers present.
The statement from Schoenstatt Chile notes that in 2018, Pope Francis removed Cox from the priesthood, after an investigation conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
However, due to his age, he remained a lay member of Schoenstatt so that the secular institute would continue to care for him.
Cox, the Schoenstatt Fathers acknowledged, “was investigated in causes of a penal character” regarding his sexual abuse, “it’s in this context that we share intensely and deeply the pain of the victims.”
“We affirm that any situation of abuse goes against our mission and we reiterate our cooperation with the justice system in everything that is withing our reach,” they said.
The archbishop’s resignation from La Serena was discreetly accepted by the Vatican in 1997. 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” at the request of the Vatican’s Congretation for Bishops – first in Switzerland and then in Germany under the care of the Schoenstatt Fathers – Cox remained semi-active, with positions in the Conference of Latin American Bishops as well as at the Vatican.
In 2002, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Santiago de Chile referred to the allegations against Cox as “rumors,” but days later released a statement asking forgiveness for those hurt by the retired archbishop’s actions. The retired cardinal today is one of several Chilean prelates being investigated by Chilean prosecutors for covering up for abusive priests.
The statement from Nov. 5 2002, published by the Chilean bishops’ conference, also had Cox addressing the faithful of La Serena, saying: “I ask forgiveness for this dark side within me and which is against the Gospel.”
On Oct. 7, 2018, Cox refused to answer questions from a Chilean news program, 24 Horas, saying that he couldn’t speak “in this time in which there is great confusion in Chile.”
Cox also said that the allegations he faces both in Chile and in Germany of having abused children “are not my problem at this moment.”
He died with allegations having been lodged against him in the two Chilean dioceses he served, and also in Germany, where he lived between 2002 and 2019, when he was forced to return to Chile.
The Vatican’s ruling in 2018 was labled by survivors at the time as “too late” in arriving, but it was also unprecedented. On the same day, the pope also removed from the clerical state the bishop emeritus of Iquique, Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez, who retired from his position in 2012 at the age of 47.
The statement made by the Holy See at the time noted that the decision did “not allow for recourse,” meaning there’s no possibility of appeal.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma