ROME – As the date for their upcoming meeting with Pope Francis approaches, several of the 32 Chilean bishops who will be in Rome to meet the pontiff May 14-17 are speaking up, some ready to resign, and others ready to demand the resignation of a bishop accused of covering up clerical sexual abuse.
Bishop Juan Barros, accused by three victims of a Chilean pedophile priest of having covered up for his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, should “without a doubt,” take “a step to the side,” according to Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago.
“I’m not a judge” to say if Barros in fact covered up or not, Ezzati said during a press conference on Thursday, but “the good of the people of God asks for his availability,” just as he himself “should be available to it” if the people of God were to ask the cardinal for his resignation.
Ezzati is 76 years old, so he technically presented his resignation to Francis last year, as is mandatory for bishops to do when they turn 75. However, it’s up to the pope to decide if he accepts the resignation, and so far, no announcement has been made.
In the meantime, the diocese of Osorno, where Barros was transferred by Francis in 2015, released a statement on Thursday saying that the bishop has some “health difficulties,” while reiterating that he’s “permanently available to the directions of the Holy Father.”
No details were given regarding his condition.
Ezzati’s words came at the conclusion of an extraordinary assembly of the clergy of Santiago, which took place this week, with the participation of some 400 priests. Said meeting was a response to a letter from Francis to the Chilean bishops’ conference, that was made public on April 11.
In the letter, the Argentine pontiff, who was in Chile in January, acknowledged that he has made “serious errors of assessment and perception” in the case of Barros, “especially due to lack of truthful and balanced information.”
Ezzati said that it is “a very serious fault to have misinformed the Holy Father,” but insisted that he personally hadn’t “deceived anyone.”
The highest authority of the Catholic Church in Chile said that Francis was “deceived” with the information given to him about Barros and said that the bishop’s situation should have been resolved “years ago.”
Right after the pope’s letter was made public through a press conference, Barros said that he was planning on attending the meeting with the pope, because it’s “something very important and it motivates us all. The pope is always looking for what’s best for everything.”
According to the pontiff himself, Barros presented his resignation at least twice, and both times Francis refused to accept it.
During the meeting Francis will have with the Chilean bishops in May, he will share with them the conclusions he has reached after reading a report presented to him by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna of Malta.
Days after his trip to Chile, during which the pope openly defended Barros, saying that the continuous allegations against the bishop were “calumnies,” Francis sent Scicluna, the Vatican’s former top prosecutor for sex abuse crimes in the Church under Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, to Chile to investigate.
The scope of Scicluna’s mission was to listen to those who have “manifested their will to make known elements they possess” against Barros.
Barros is one of four bishops who were close to Karadima, a charismatic priest who, from the parish of El Bosque, ministered to the Chilean upper class. An extremely active parish, it had a high number of vocations, with some 50 priests coming from it.
Though Ezzati said he’d be open to stepping down if it were requested of him, not every Chilean bishop is willing to do so.
Bishop Horacio Valenzuela, one of the four formed by the pedophile priest and who was cited to testify in the case against Karadima, said on Monday that the resignation of religious leaders such as himself is not the answer to solve the crisis.
The Bishop of Talca said that regarding the request for his resignation, “this is not where the solution comes from,” citing that they have to “pray together with the pope and see what happens.”
“If he makes a change here, a change there, in the end, it’s him [the pope] who organizes the Church,” Valenzuela said.
Changing the tone with which he’s often referred to Karadima, Valenzuela also said that “we all have weaknesses, we all sin, we all behave more or less badly, we weren’t attentive when bad things were happening, we lacked lucidity to be close to those who suffered, all that.”
Bishop Tomislav Koljatic, of Linares, was also formed by Karadima, and, like Valenzuela, openly defended his mentor when the allegations were made public in 2010. Both sent letters to the Vatican, speaking against the survivors and defending the priest.
After the pope’s letter, however, he said: “Perhaps I wasn’t lucid enough to understand what was happening [in El Bosque] and if this is so, evidently I must assume that responsibility.”
Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, archbishop emeritus of Santiago, a member of the pope’s council of nine cardinal advisors and someone repeatedly singled out by the victims and even members of his own clergy as being one of those responsible for the pope’s misinformation, said that his role as papal advisor doesn’t mean he’s tasked with informing Francis on the situation of the Chilean Church.
According to local newspaper La Tercera, the cardinal said the two tasks he has as a member of the pope’s “C9” is to “help Pope Francis in the reform of the Roman curia as an institution,” and to “give our advice to the pope on the matters he consults us on.”
“It is not part of our task to inform the pope about the difficulties, the possible errors and evils that affect the Church,” Errázuriz is quoted as saying.
On Twitter, Cruz, one of Karadima’s victims, accused Errázuriz of lying.
“Now [he’s] trying to make believe that he supported us,” Cruz wrote on April 13. “[He] NEVER did so. He is one of those who lied to the pope. A miserable man who today is trying to get on the chariot of victory for the Scicluna report. His evilness is known. He doesn’t deceive us!!”
On Thursday night, Cruz also referred to his upcoming meeting with Francis, saying that he’s “at ease, going to spend some days” with the pope, to try to “explain to him the sadness” that so many have with the Chilean bishops who are “the contrary to a good shepherd and today stab whomever to save themselves.”
“They don’t understand anything, they show their miseries, they sink themselves,” he wrote.