Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comments from Cardinal Javier Errázuriz.
ROME – Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu, the one Vatican figure, other than Pope Francis, who probably knows the Chilean Church best right now, told reporters Thursday that “history is being made” in Rome this week in an extraordinary summit between the pope and 34 Chilean bishops.
“We are at a very particular moment for the universal Church, not only for Chile,” Bertomeu told reporters. “What has happened is not normal, to call [in] an entire bishops’ conference. If I were you [a journalist], I would deduce that it’s necessary to expect some measures [to be taken]. I believe we’re making history.”
Bertomeu is the lesser-known of the two men Francis tasked with carrying out a deep dive into the situation of the Catholic Church in Chile, originally to investigate the case of Bishop Juan Barros, accused of covering up for his mentor, who’s been found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors.
Due to circumstance, Bertomeu, an official of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ended up taking lead after Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna was hospitalized in Chile for emergency gall bladder surgery.
Together, the two men interviewed 64 people, including victims of Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most infamous pedophile priest, and of various religious orders, including the Marist brothers.
Bertomeu said that it’s wrong to compare the case of the Chilean bishops with that of the American cardinals who came to Rome in 2002 to address the clerical sexual abuses crisis, or that of the Irish bishops who came in 2009.
“[Sexual abuse] is always abuse. But the Chilean case has characteristics of abuse of power and authority that make it somewhat special,” he said, adding that these abuses weren’t as present in the Irish and American cases.
“But the Church is learning, it wants to be a light in society, abuses cannot be tolerated,” he said.
Also on Thursday, a Chilean cardinal and papal adviser defended himself against charges that he had turned a blind eye to the abuse crisis, and then provided misleading information to Francis that led the pontiff to defend a bishop accused of covering up for Karadima and accuse victims of “calumny.”
“I investigated Karadima. I won’t say more,” said Cardinal Javier Errázuriz, speaking to the Chilean outlet T13. Errázuriz also sits on the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers.
Errázuriz added, however, that the pope told him “I had always informed him right.”
After a private meeting with the pope in late April, three of Karadima’s victims told journalists they want to see Errázuriz face trial for having covered up.
One of those victims, James Hamilton, said that by 2005 the cardinal “knew everything,” because they’d provided testimony to a promoter of justice in Chile, who informed the cardinal the allegations against Karadima were believable.
Bertomeu, who lives in the Roman residence where the Chilean bishops have been staying, said he hasn’t participated in the meetings between the bishops and the pope, but has been in contact with the Chileans at the Casa del Clero.
Speaking about how he’s seen the bishops, the priest said that there’s great concern to “listen to Peter, to the Holy Father, because what they want is for the Church in Chile to go back to being what it’s always been: a prophetic Church, which now has deep problems.”
“I believe they have to listen to the Holy Father, see what orientations he gives to them, but this goes not only for the bishops [but for the entire Chilean Church],” he said.
Bertomeu spoke with journalists who were waiting for the bishops to leave for their meeting with the pope. When the prelates came out to board the private bus that’s been taking them to their meetings with the pontiff in the auletta of the Paul VI Hall, they didn’t speak.
On their way back, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez, who’s been named as one of the two spokesmen of the Chilean bishops during the trip, told reporters that the bishops had had the opportunity to speak, and that Barros is expected to do so this afternoon.
Regarding possible resignations, or the pope deciding to remove some bishops from their posts even before they depart from Rome this weekend, Gonzalez said that it’s possible the pope will make a decision along those lines, but the meeting Thursday morning wasn’t the time to talk about this.
The Chilean bishops arrived in Rome late last week, and most are expected to leave during the weekend. They met with Francis for some 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, when the pope handed then a 9-page theological reflection for them to pray and meditate on, and again for a few hours on Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, Francis welcomed the bishops mid-morning, and will do so again in the afternoon.