SANTA FE, Argentina – It’s been an eventful time in Pope Francis’s native Latin America, with a new bishop apologizing for clerical sexual abuse in Chile, the bishops of Nicaragua announcing the return of public Masses after the coronavirus and the Church in Ecuador praising the country’s president for vetoing a bill that would have partially legalized abortion.
Here’s a round-up on developments south of the border.
Two years after a clean-up of the church in Chile began, with Pope Francis replacing a third of the bishops’ conference, a new auxiliary bishop was ordained in Santiago, the country’s capital, and his opening remarks turned on the abuse crisis.
“I assume this episcopal mission in times of great crisis that afflict us all,” Bishop Julio Larrondo said on Saturday.
Referring to abuses of power, conscience and sex, Larrondo noted they’ve “caused so much pain, first for the victims and their families, and also to the entire ecclesial body.”
He said these crimes have motivated the Church to review the way it accompanies the people of God, while admitting “we still have a lot to do” and saying these painful situations have generated a loss of faith, estrangement and a loss of credibility.
“At the beginning of this ministry, I would like to apologize to those who have suffered from these situations, as the Church has done in recent times, starting with Pope Francis, and to collaborate as much as possible with due reparation,” he said.
The wounds caused by clerical abuse, Larrondo said, will be difficult to heal.
“If we believe that God leads history and we collaborate with his will, we will emerge from this crisis stronger, more human, more Christian,” Larrondo said.
Critics have argued the pope was slow to act on the Chilean case, after he supported a bishop accused of covering up for former priest Fernando Karadima. In 2018, after sending two Vatican investigators to Chile, Francis accepted the resignation of ten bishops, all of whom were either accused of sexual abuse or cover up. No explanation was given as to why they were removed and replaced by apostolic administrators.
Several of the bishops replaced had their jobs taken over by auxiliary bishops of Santiago, which is why Archbishop Celestino Aos, appointed to lead the troubled archdiocese after the pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, had asked the pontiff to replace them.
Two were appointed last year, but one had to resign before taking office after a series of controversial statements on women, the Jewish community and the abuse crisis.
Six months after closing churches in the country to public services, the bishops’ conference of Nicaragua released a statement over the weekend announcing that, starting Oct. 4, public Masses will resume.
The announcement came as Nicaragua seems to have largely controlled the COVID-19 pandemic, with a drop in infections and deaths. Although the government and volunteers tracking the virus don’t agree on the numbers, both say the pandemic has ebbed.
The bishops said their decision is a response to a “cry” of the Catholic population that “wishes to once again experience the closeness of a community,” and is also based on advice from health care experts.
The Catholic church, the bishops said, “Has assumed the challenge with fear and trembling, conscious not only of the danger of the pandemic but also the socio-political crisis our country is living: Convoking all Catholics to resume living our faith life in community in a gradual way.”
The bishops said it’s time for the faithful to “resume their place” in churches, which cannot be replaced by online streaming.
“Physical contact with the Lord is vital, indispensable and irreplaceable,” they wrote.
Safety protocols include cleaning churches before and after services, having only one door open, a tray with disinfectant on the floor and alcohol available for washing one’s hands. Mass won’t be longer than an hour, only three people are allowed to be part of choirs, and there won’t be song books in the pews. Faithful will have to use face masks and priests will move through the church at Communion time to avoid lines.
The Nicaraguan church says six priests have died of the coronavirus so far, including Bishop emeritus Bosco Vivas of Leon.
On Friday, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno vetoed an “organic health code” partially legalizing abortion approved by parliament August 25. The decision was welcomed by pro-life organizations that had collected over 100,000 signatures requesting a veto.
Among those celebrating are the Catholic bishops, who complained the code had been presented in an “ambiguous, indetermined way, qualifying [abortion] as an obstetric emergency,” and argued that it imposed “ideological gender views that are contrary to ethical and scientific conventions.”
Archbishop Alfredo Jose Espinoza of Quito praised the decision minutes after it was announced: “Ecuador is a country that continues to believe in life,” he said.
Espinoza thanked authorities for being “sensitive to the cries of a people, for having said ‘No’ to a code of death.”
“We continue to build life, continue to build family, continue to believe in young generations that must be educated in principles and values, we continue to bet on life, true human rights and human values.”
After the veto, parliament won’t be able to discuss abortion again for a year.
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