A Chilean bishop said he didn’t act with the “appropriate quickness” when allegations against a group of priests was brought to his attention, just days after returning from a Rome meeting with Pope Francis to discuss the Chilean hierarchy’s abysmal handling of abuse cases.
Bishop Alejandro Goić Karmelić of the Diocese of Rancagua apologized on Saturday after a report detailing the alleged actions of Father Luis Rubio Contreras appeared on Chile’s T13 television, the same news outlet that leaked Francis’s 10-page letter to the Chilean bishops which told them the Church in the country “needs a change,” including the “removal of some people.”
Goić is one of the most prominent bishops in Chile, having served as president of the bishops’ conference from 2004-2010.
Rubio was part of a priestly fraternity which called itself “La Familia,” and whose members were accused of illicit sexual acts, including possibly the abuse of minors.
The television program shows Rubio admitting that he sent naked pictures of himself to a Facebook account he believed to be a minor’s – however, it was a false account, set up to trap the priest.
The news report featured the testimony of Elisa Fernandez, a youth minister in the parish of Paredones, who said she told Goić about the abuses over a year ago, but he refused to act on the information.
“I do not know whether to call it a brotherhood, a sect, or a group of priests who have practices that do not conform to their status as clerics; and with respect to young people [this group of priests showed an unnatural interest in], they were between 15 and 29 years old,” Fernandez said on the program.
When T13 asked Goić to comment before airing the report, the bishop responded, “I did not study to be a detective; I studied to be a pastor.”
Fernandez set up the Facebook account for an imaginary 16-year-old named “Pablo,” and then contacted Rubio. The priest sent several messages of an erotic nature to the profile, including naked photos.
“I acknowledge that I did that; I know it is horrible; but I cannot say anything else more than that,” the priest said on the television program. “It is a day of great sadness and I regret what I have done, and I feel very embarrassed.”
The program aired on May 18, just a day after Goić returned from Rome. The next day, the bishop suspended Rubio, and later read a statement to journalists.
“I want to apologize for my actions in this case. I recognize that I welcomed this young woman who appears in the report [Fernandez], and that I acted without the appropriate nimbleness in the investigative process of Father Luis Rubio and the other priests she mentioned,” the bishop said.
He also praised the work of the T13, saying it brought details to his attention he didn’t know, and this greatly affected him.
He also said he has sent a report to prosecutors in Chile, and will send a canonical report to the Vatican within a week.
“I deeply regret any acts or situations that violate the values and principles that sustain our Catholic Church, and I want to express my clear readiness to collaborate in any type of procedure that derives from the revelations of these matters,” Goić said.
The bishop also called on anyone having information about abuse to contact the diocese.
“I must admit that, personally, as a Christian and pastor, I am very affected by this difficult situation, and it pains and embarrasses me,” he added. “I pray that the truth will be revealed, the whole truth, in these cases and in any other type of situation that threatens the Gospel of the love of Christ.”
Goić, along with every other bishop in Chile, presented Pope Francis with his letter of resignation on Thursday when meeting with the pontiff.
The decision about the bishops’ fate is now in the hands of the pope, who can either accept the resignations or reject them.