ROME – After a three-day summit between Pope Francis and 34 Chilean bishops to discuss sexual abuse and abuses of power, the pontiff thanked the Chileans for being open to changes in the “short, medium and long term … to restore justice and ecclesial communion,” but did not describe the content of those changes.
In a letter the pope gave the bishops which the Vatican released Thursday afternoon, the pope called the Chilean bishops to continue working for a “prophetic Church, capable of putting at the center what’s important: the service to her Lord in the hungry, the imprisoned, the migrant, the abused.”
In the text, Francis also thanked the bishops for “welcoming the invitation” to undertake a “frank discernment about the grave events that have damaged ecclesial communion and weakened the work of the Church of Chile in recent years.”
The pope had summoned the bishops to Rome after dispatching Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu to Chile to look into the case of Bishop Juan Barros, accused by survivors of clerical sexual abuse of covering up for his mentor Father Fernando Karadima.
Karadima has been found guilty by the Vatican of abusing minors, as well as abuses of power and conscience with his followers.
Four of Chile’s bishops were part of Karadima’s inner circle. In 2015 Francis decided to transfer one of them, Barros, to the southern diocese of Osorno, generating uproar from many in the local clergy and the faithful, but also among national politicians and Karadima’s survivors.
The pope openly supported Barros on several occasions, including his trip to Chile in January, saying the accusations against the bishop were “calumnies.” Yet ten days after coming back from Chile, he sent Scicluna and Bertomeu, who spoke with 64 people and produced a 2,300-page report.
After receiving the report, Francis sent a letter to the Chilean bishops acknowledging he’d been wrong, and summoning all of them to Rome. The missive was read by the bishops during a live-streamed press conference on April 11.
Both the report and the content of the discussions between the pope and the bishops this week have been confidential. However, the Chileans have announced that Bishop Fernando Ramos, president of the bishops’ conference, will speak to the press on Friday.
“In the light of these painful events regarding abuses – of minors, of power and of conscience – we have deepened in the seriousness of these as well as in the tragic consequences that they have had, particularly for the victims,” Francis said in the letter.
As he notes in the 4-paragraph text, the pontiff personally asked “forgiveness from the heart” from some of the victims, including three who were in the Vatican in late April.
According to Francis, the bishops have “united in a single will” to ask forgiveness, “and with the firm intention of repairing the damages caused.”
“I thank you for the full availability that each one [of you] has shown to adhere and collaborate in all the changes and resolutions that we will have to implement in the short, medium and long term, necessary to restore justice and ecclesial communion,” the pope said.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, the pope and the Chilean bishops met four times. On the first day, the pope gave the prelates a text, asking them to pray on it. During the meeting they had on Wednesday and the two on Thursday, the bishops had the opportunity to speak as well.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Perez, auxiliary of Santiago, said the summit in Rome was “part of a larger process” that began with Scicluna going to Chile, and that will have “many parts still.”
“[The process] will produce a very deep renovation of the spirit of the church in Chile and our mission,” he said. “It will allow us to put Christ, the Lord, at the center, who is the only one who has to shine in the life of the Church.”
Regarding the document Francis gave to the bishops on the first day, Ramos said that it was a “very beautiful reflection,” with a deep look into the reality of the Chilean church from a theological and spiritual perspective, “assuming the hurtful situations of abuse of conscience, power, and also sexual.”
During the following three sessions, each bishop had the opportunity to speak. Barros, at the heart of the problem, spoke on Thursday’s last encounter.
“It was an incredibly frank, profound and truthful dialogue,” Ramos said, calling it a “collegial reflection,” looking from “prayer and in the spirit of Jesus Christ at what the Church needs most.”
However, he refused to share the content of the meetings, insisting on the confidentiality requested by Francis. Ramos did say, however, that the pope had shared he was “hurt” but what’s happened in the Chilean church.
“We too are hurt by what’s happened in the Church in Chile,” he said.
Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez, who along with Ramos was chosen by the prelates as spokesman during these days, also spoke with journalists.
“[Francis] has in his hands the most important decisions, and we are available for whatever he says,” Gonzalez said.
In recent days, survivors of clerical sexual abuse have called for a renewal in the Chilean bishops’ conference, demanding not only the resignation of the four bishops mentored by Karadima, but also of the ones who’re over 75, the age at which bishops are obliged to present their resignation to the pope.
There are five bishops who are 75 or older in Chile, but still in active duty. These include Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago. It’s still unclear if the pope will accept, or demand, their resignations as a part of the process of renewal, nor when will a decision will be announced if made.
There are reports that the four Karadima bishops have already presented their resignation, but this was not confirmed either by the Vatican or the Chilean bishops.