ROME – Pope Francis’s attempts to address massive clerical sexual abuse scandals in Chile, including charges of cover-ups by bishops, took another step forward on Thursday when the Vatican announced he had accepted the resignations of two more prelates who’ve long been considered part of the problem.
Bishop Alejandro Goić Karmelić of Rancagua is now out of office, along with Bishop Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela Abarca of Talca, who was one of four bishops formed by Father Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious pedophile priest. Some weeks ago, Francis accepted the resignation of another one of these bishops, Juan Barros of Osorno.
Goić, who until some weeks ago served as the head of the Chilean Church’s National Commission for the Prevention of Abuses, is over 75 years of age, so he’d presented his resignation to the pope before the entire Chilean conference met with Francis in April.
The bishops had been summoned to Rome to address a crisis related to systematic abuses of a sexual nature and subsequent cover-ups, as well as abuses of power and conscience. Though the content of their discussions was kept confidential, a document the pope gave the bishops was leaked to the press. In it, Francis clearly stated that various crimes have been committed in past decades, including the destruction of evidence.
Goić had resigned from the prevention commission due to allegations that arose soon after his return to Rome, claiming he had ignored accusations in his own diocese of misconduct by some 14 priests, including the sexual abuse of minors. The priests were suspended after the accusations were made public on a TV news program.
Goić had received allegations about the group two years ago, but it wasn’t until a news program on the network T13 investigated the allegations and broadcast them that the bishop took action. He had to publicly apologize for failing to promptly investigate a reported case of sexual abuse.
To replace him, Francis tapped Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Pérez, auxiliary of Santiago de Chile, the country’s capital. Goić was once one of the most prominent bishops in Chile, having served as president of the bishops’ conference from 2004-2010.
The archbishop of Santiago himself, Ricardo Ezzati, has been accused by victims of covering up abuse and ignoring allegations, all accusations he denies.
Valenzuela, on the other hand, is 64. He’s long been accused by victims of Karadima, together with three other bishops, of having covered up for his mentor.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima’s survivors, speaking with the press in early May, after the encounter three victims had with Pope Francis in late April, said that he’d confided in the pope that the four bishops “saw how Karadima touched and abused young people, and they were there. [The pope] received that information.”
On Thursday, Cruz commented on the resignations, saying that the pontiff was making “slow but sure” progress in the clean up of the Chilean Church.
“Two fewer bad and corrupt bishops leading good people,” he said.
In addition to Barros and Valenzuela, the other two are Andrés Arteaga and Tomislav Koljatic Maroevic.
The scandal in the Catholic Church in Chile first came to light in 2015, when Francis appointed Barros to Osorno. However, the pontiff publicly defended him until January, during his trip to the South American country, when he said that the criticisms against the bishop were “calumnies.”
By late January, however, something had changed, because the Vatican announced he was sending Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu to look into the Barros’ case. They came back with a 2,300 page report, the product of 64 interviews. The two were back in Chile earlier this month.
Since then, they have returned to Chile to focus particularly on Osorno.
In addition, Francis summoned the Chilean bishops to Rome, who presented their resignations en masse. He also met with two other groups, one was the victims of Karadima, and another including five victims, all of them priests, and not all of them victims of sexual abuse, two priests who’ve helped the survivors for the past two decades, and two lay people, including one of the younger brothers of the pedophile priest.