Despite repeated attempts to distance himself from his country’s sexual abuse crisis, including recently asserting there’s a climate of “slander” against the Catholic Church, Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago is facing mounting scrutiny for his role in the scandals both from outside the Church and in.
The latest headache for Ezzati, who heads the Archdiocese of Santiago, Chile’s capital, has come with the revelation of a letter by a brother archbishop, Alejandro Goic, who until recently led the Archdiocese of Rancagua.
Pope Francis accepted Goic’s resignation in June, after the bishop acknowledged he’d taken too long to respond to accusations that priests in his diocese were involved in a ring of abuses, including homosexuality and prostitution. A few days earlier, Goic had resigned his position as head of a national commission for abuse prevention.
On Sunday, a Chilean newspaper published a letter Goic had written as head of that commission on June 11, 2013, which was addressed to Ezzati.
“Sometimes I have the impression, perhaps subjective, that you don’t share the criteria of the national commission in these delicate issues,” he said, referring to the child abuse scandals.
“At the same time, members of the commission share their dissatisfaction with certain situations that you have had to take on,” Goic wrote. “For me, it hasn’t been easy. To maintain communion with you and respect and listen to the critical judgments of the members requires a complex balance.”
The archbishop says that he might be the one at fault, for not “provoking a fraternal dialogue” rooted in shared love for God and the Church. Said dialogue, he argues, would have helped them unify criteria in these issues that have “painfully marked our Church.”
Though the letter comes from a fellow prelate of the 76-year-old Ezzati, it was published on Sunday by the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio after being discovered by local prosecutor Emiliano Arias, whose force raided the archdiocesan archives of both Santiago and Rancagua.
Arias is investigating both dioceses for at least two cases: a group of priests in Rancagua who called themselves “The Family,” and the former chancellor of Santiago, Father Oscar Muñoz, who late last year reported himself for having abused a minor. Since then, it’s been made known that allegations against him have been made by at least 7 victims, five of whom are his nephews.
In the letter, Goic speaks of three issues he and Ezzati should discuss further: Pastoral attention for people who’ve been abused and their families; transparency on cases of abuse; and what to do with priests who are found guilty.
Speaking about supporting victims, Goic says they have been “deeply wounded” by “abuses and injustices, they have been hurt and traumatized … As a Church we must develop a more empathic attitude towards these people.”
Goic also refers to the case of Father Fernando Karadima, the country’s most infamous pedophile priest, and congratulates Ezzati for his initial response to the crisis. (The cardinal took over Santiago as Karadima was being sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penitence and prayer.)
Yet, according to Goic, after that initial response, Ezzati “regrettably” didn’t continue working with victims.
“I know that they have been unfair, tough, even lied at times. But none of that takes away their condition of wounded and damaged victims,” Goic wrote.
One of Karadima’s survivors, journalist Juan Carlos Cruz, went to Twitter to react to the letter, describing the Chilean bishops as “hypocrites.”
“Impressive how these corrupt and [guilty of] cover-up bishops of Chile say something to the outside and when they write to each other, this. They have no solution,” Cruz said. He has called for all the bishops to leave.
Following a May visit to the Vatican, every Chilean bishop presented his resignation to Francis, but so far the pontiff has only accepted five. Ezzati is 76, meaning he’s presented his resignation twice, as every bishop does when he turns 75.
Speaking about transparency in his letter, Goic said that despite the efforts made by the Church, “they continue to accuse us of secrecy.”
“Yesterday, we didn’t have the conscience we have today- we kept abuses of minors in silence, said it was human weaknesses, the priests were transferred to other places,” Goic acknowledged. “Today, this is over, thanks be to God. We have conscience that this is not only a very grave sin, but also a crime. No one today can keep in silence the abuses of minors.”
Anyone who does keep silent, the prelate writes, becomes an accomplice: “We cannot act under the logic of intervening and speaking only when the media has found out. If we put the victims in the first place, we have the moral duty of acting with the truth. A policy of more transparency is a necessary and indispensable sign at this time.”
Speaking about who exercises a “healthy ministry,” the archbishop says that they too need to be supported, because they carry this “enormous weight. They have to share the shame of their brother priests guilty of abuse for the simple fact of belonging to the same presbytery.”
Lastly, Goic also refers to the way Ezzati exercises power, saying that at times, priests and even bishops are afraid of confronting him, fearful of the “possible consequences of disagreeing with you.”
Since Francis’s visit to Chile in January, several new cases of abuse and cover-ups have arisen, bringing the number of accused religious to 113.
Local paper La Tercera had reported about 80 cases before the pontiff’s visit, but since then, partially prompted by Francis’s decision to look further into accusations, other cases have come to light, made public either by the bishops’ conference, religious orders or the public prosecutor’s office.