ROME – Even though he’s considered to be at the center of the current sexual abuse crisis in the Chilean Church, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who sits on the “C9” council of cardinals that advises Pope Francis, won’t be coming to Rome next week when the rest of the country’s bishops meet with the pontiff.
Citing “personal reasons,” Errázuriz, 86, will not travel, even though Francis asked that every bishop in the country come to the Vatican to address the crisis created by well-documented cases of clerical sexual abuse and accusations of its cover-up.
Errázuriz was last in Rome in April, to participate in a April 23-25 C9 meeting. Per his own statement, he’s already given Pope Francis a 14-page report of the ramifications of the case of Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious clerical abuser.
Three survivors of Karadima, have accused Errázuriz of covering up for the priest. They met the pope at the end of April, and told the press that they “would love to see” the cardinal, together with the current archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, stand trial.
Karadima was found guilty by a Vatican court in 2011.
Errázuriz’s decision was first reported by Chile’s Tele 13 Radio, and then confirmed by several other local news outlets.
Chilean paper La Tercera, reports that people close to the cardinal also alleged that the trip to Rome was too expensive – the Vatican is not covering the cost. The Casa Santa Marta — the Vatican guesthouse which serves as the papal residence — was also booked, meaning it would be harder to avoid the press during the visit.
“It’s striking that Cardinal Errázuriz, with the relevance he has, has removed himself from such an important moment for our Church, one that the pope himself convoked and will preside over,” said Soledad Errázuriz, executive director of Catholic Voices Chile.
Francis asked the Chilean bishops to be available May 14-17, though it’s unclear at this point when the meetings will take place and what format they’ll follow. Most bishops are scheduled to arrive on Thursday and Friday, but some are already in Rome.
Francis summoned all of the Chilean bishops to Rome after he received a 2,300-page report from Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnós, who work for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith. The two interviewed 64 people in Chile and the United States.
In a letter he sent to Chile a week after he received the last documents of the report, Francis told the bishops that he had “made serious errors of judgement and perception of the situation, especially due to lack of truthful and balanced information.”
He also said that he planned to “call you to Rome to discuss the conclusions of the aforementioned visit and my conclusions.”
Next week’s will be the largest gathering of bishops to discuss clerical sex abuse in response to a papal summons.
Francis had originally sent Scicluna and Bertomeu to investigate the allegations made against Bishop Juan Barros, who was one of four bishops who belonged to Karadima’s inner circle. The pope had transferred Barros from the military diocese to the southern diocese of Osorno, generating uproar from both the local church and the victims of the abusive priest.
Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman of the lay association of Osorno that has protested Barro’s appointment since 2015, said that it’s “regrettable that the cardinal won’t attend, since this is an important moment to face up to responsibilities. We hope that the pontiff will make his decisions not in with a view of pastoral prudence, nor because of the presence or absence of certain people, but in relation to the needs of the Church.”
Once they were in Chile the papal investigators also spoke with survivors of other cases of clerical sexual abuse in the Latin American country, including those abused by Marist brothers. Ahead of the papal visit to Chile last January, the religious congregation acknowledged it had covered up cases of abuse.
As of January 2018, there were a total of 80 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct in the past 15 years in Chile – including local clergy and missionaries from abroad. According to La Tercera, one of Chile’s major news outlets, 45 were condemned either by civil or ecclesiastical courts, out of which 34 were for abusing minors.
At this point, it’s unclear what, if anything, will come from the journey of the Chilean bishops to Rome. The victims of Karadima and others, even within the hierarchy, have called for the resignation of not only the four bishops who worked closely with the priest, but also of the five bishops, including Ezzati, who are over the age of 75.
Speaking with La Tercera, Bishop Luis Infanti of Aysén said that he foresees a “strong tremor in the Chilean Church,” including “the departure of bishops.”
“In addition, tremor means to give a new direction to the Church in Chile,” he said. “The pope seeks to give a signal of change, otherwise, he wouldn’t call us to Rome. It is not to praise us, nor to rub our backs.”
Immediately after the pope’s letter was read in a live-streamed press conference, Barros said he was planning on attending the Rome gathering. Two weeks ago the diocese of Osorno released a statement saying he was having “health complications.” However, latest reports indicate Barros is already in Europe.