Pope’s Francis’s recent about-face on Chile’s clerical sexual abuse crisis, pivoting from strongly defending a bishop accused of cover-up to ordering investigations and summoning bishops to Rome to read them the riot act, appears to have been read as a green light to investigate by Chile’s civilian authorities, who in recent months have conducted multiple raids in several dioceses looking for evidence.
Perhaps fueling those efforts has been Francis’s telling the country’s bishops in May that he had been informed of various crimes surrounding clerical sexual abuse, prominently including the destruction of evidence.
The latest target of regional prosecutor Emiliano Arias is Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, 76, the Archbishop of Santiago. Ezzati first presented his resignation to Francis when he turned 75 and did so again on May 17, together with all of the Chilean bishops.
To date, that resignation hasn’t been accepted.
Ezzati, as well as his predecessor, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who currently sits on a council of nine cardinals who advise the pope on Vatican reform, is accused of covering up abuse, and Arias is currently seeking evidence to back the allegations.
Beyond raiding the archdiocesan archives twice, Crux has been able to confirm the prosecutor is currently conducting interviews with potential witnesses in Santiago.
Speaking with Radio T13 on Tuesday, Arias said that the case of Santiago’s ex-chancellor, Father Oscar Muñoz, and reports of a pedophile ring in the diocese of Rancagua, could be seen “as a crime of cover-up” by Ezzati.
“The cover-up appears after the crime is committed, and the hypothesis that is being investigated is if the criminals have regularly been favored,” Arias said.
Regarding Muñoz, according to the prosecutor it’s “an undeniable fact” that the Catholic Church knew there were more victims of the former chancellor beyond one he self-reported in May.
The fact that the allegations were only brought up in the Church and not to civil justice, he added, is what led the prosecutor’s office to open an investigation.
“An organization, be it the Catholic Church or a private institution, cannot fail to denounce crimes as serious as the sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities,” Arias said.
Muñoz is currently accused of having abused at least 7 children, five of whom are his nephews. The crimes reportedly occurred over the past decade, with the latest abuse occurring sometime in late 2017, before he stepped down, in January 5 of this year, ten days after he’d told Ezzati that he’d abused a minor and a day after the archdiocese received the testimony in writing.
The cardinal, through the archdiocese, released a statement last Friday saying he didn’t know of the chancellor’s crimes until he came forward.
To guarantee that priests are forced to bring accusations to civil authorities, Arias said that it’d be “healthy to make a small change in the law” so that clerics become mandatory reporters, “as is the case for other professionals, such as teachers.”
Though he never actually cited Ezzati, Arias spoke of “the bishop” of Santiago, saying that the prelate knows all the allegations. Arias said that the investigation aims at determining if there were other allegations and if the bishops knew of them or not, noting that he doesn’t rule out that someone chose not to inform Ezzati.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a journalist and one of the survivors of Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, Fernando Karadima, is less cautious.
“[If Arias called me] I would tell him that I’m very happy that he’s investigating Ezzati, that it’s about time,” he told Crux over the phone from Chile on Wednesday.
“The investigation is not exclusive to Ezzati, it also involves Errazuriz, and it’s extensive,” he said. “I hope the prosecutors sees that the evidence is there to prove their cover-up. It’s something everyone knows, but [it’s good] that the law is reaching them.”
Cruz said he’s “hopeful” that justice will prevail and trust the prosecutor.
“I would like nothing more than to see them paying in some way [for their cover-up], but we have to let justice run its course,” he said.
Cruz is one of three who were welcomed by Francis in Rome earlier this year and whom the pope asked to advise him on how to address the crisis in the Chilean Church. Since then, the pontiff has accepted the resignation of five bishops, and sources have told Crux others will be accepted.
According to Cruz, Ezzati is a “fake,” saying one thing one day and another the following. Cruz’s opinion of the pope, however, is the opposite: “I believe that he’s going to take action. I trust the pope,” he said.
This doesn’t mean Cruz wouldn’t like to see a faster pace on the pope’s decision regarding individual bishops.
“But there’s no one to appoint… he’s making sure he puts in the correct apostolic administrators, but he’s not even naming bishops,” he said.
The survivor, who today lives in Philadelphia, spoke with Crux from Chile, where he’s visiting family but where he said he’s “cooperating with what I can.”
On Thursday, Cruz plans to fly to Lima, Peru, where he’s scheduled to give a talk at a local theater that’s already fully booked. He’s going to support a play called “San Bartolo” about the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Catholic association founded by layman Luis Fernando Figari, who the Sodalitium itself has acknowledged to be guilty of sexual abuse.
Cruz also says he will meet with congressmen and women who are currently investigating the Sodalitium. Born in Peru, the association is present in several other countries, including neighboring Chile, where according to Cruz, Figari had the support of Errazuriz.
“Errazuriz is really good friends with the abusive delinquent Figari,” he said. “Figari came to Chile invited by Errazuriz on more than one occasion, and their connection is strong. But no one should be surprised by this: wherever there’s delinquency, Errazuriz is there.”