As news of escalating crises continues to roll in from various quarters of Latin America, the Catholic Church is taking a strikingly hands-on approach.
That proactive stance applies both when the mess it faces is external, as in Venezuela and its political and humanitarian challenges, or in-house, as in Chile, where the Church is paying the price for decades of mismanagement of clerical sexual abuse.
In Venezuela, bishops condemn a ‘de facto regime’
At the end of their July 7-11 general assembly, the bishops of Venezuela said that the government headed by Nicolás Maduro “appears before the country as a victim of external and internal interference,” and they defined this attitude as “nothing more than the confession of [Maduro’s] own inability to govern the country.”
“You cannot pretend to solve the situation of a failed economy with emergency measures such as food bags and bonuses,” they said in a statement.
The prelates also said that Venezuela today lives under a “de facto regime, without respect to the guarantees provided for in the Constitution and to the highest principles of the dignity of the people.”
Never ones to mince words, the bishops also called upon the leaders of the opposition to offer the people “an alternative of change,” urging them to work for the wellbeing of the country.
In this regard, the bishops once again went after the ruling socialist party, saying that as long as there are political prisoners in the country and opposition members who are banned from running for office, “there won’t be a free and sovereign electoral process.”
“The main responsibility for the crisis we are going through lies with the national government, for putting its political project before any other consideration, including humanitarian [ones]; for its erroneous financial policies; for its contempt of productive activity and for private property; [and] for its constant attitude of putting obstacles in the way of those who are willing to resolve some aspect of the current problem,” they said.
The bishops called on the government and public and private institutions to work in favor of people who are suffering as a result of the ongoing crisis. Reducing it all to an ideological struggle, they said, is a “temptation of totalitarian regimes.”
According to the bishops, national elections that reelected Maduro in May were “illegitimate,” a position shared not only by the opposition, but also by many countries, including the United States.
Talking about the role the Catholic Church has had in protests that have shaken the government in recent years, the prelates said that the institution isn’t backing down.
“We commit ourselves to be by our people’s side,” they said.
The bishops also said that Venezuela is today a country living in “diaspora,” with thousands fleeing each month towards neighboring nations in search of a better life.
“It’s suicidal to continue stubbornly insisting on a path of self-destruction that will turn against its promoters,” the prelates wrote in their exhortation, titled “Don’t be afraid, I am with you.” After stressing that the Church doesn’t promote revenge, it doesn’t promote “impunity for crimes that threaten life and fundamental rights.”
Venezuela “urgently needs” a political class that puts the people at the center of its actions.
Mexico’s new president wants the Church on his side
After winning national elections on July 1, president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, who will take office in December, sent a representative to the Vatican to deliver an invitation for Pope Francis to collaborate in a strategy to pacify the country.
Since the Argentine pontiff was in Mexico in 2016, the government doesn’t expect the pope to travel again, but they do hope he would at least participate in a consultation the new government has promised through video conferences.
AMLO’s government has proposed an amnesty law to benefit minors who’ve fallen prey to organized crime, but it would exclude those who were involved in human trafficking, kidnapping, murders and rape.
In addition, the president asked a famous Mexican priest, who focuses much of his ministry on aiding migrants and defending the poor and voiceless, to lead the country’s Commission for Human Rights.
Father Alejandro Solalinde, coordinator of the South Pacific Human Mobility Ministry of the Mexican Bishopric and director of Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter that provides Central American migrants with humanitarian aid and education, decided to reject the offer in order to remain “free” to exercise his ministry.
“There’s no objection, nor would it be a violation of the rule of law or the secular state if I were to [accept the position], even as a priest, because human rights are not incompatible with [priestly] ministry, but I want to be free,” Solalinde said Thursday.
In Chile, Church still struggling to find its footing
The Catholic Church in Chile is grappling to regain its footing after decades of mismanagement when it comes to cases of clerical sexual abuse came to light, which, according to Pope Francis, involves not only cover-up by members of the hierarchy but also the destruction of evidence.
In the past six months, Francis made a radical turn from defending a bishop accused of having covered up to summoning all the bishops to Rome to read them the riot act. At the end of that meeting, every Chilean bishop presented his resignation. The pope has accepted five and he’s expected to accept several more, with some observers saying the final number will be over a dozen.
Among the bishops whose resignation was accepted is Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso, who’s accused not only of covering up but of sexually abusing seminarians and also abuses of power and conscience. A former seminarian is leading the allegations.
Bishop Pedro Ossadon, auxiliary of the capital, Santiago, is currently serving as apostolic administrator in Valparaiso, and he’s announced the creation of a Diocesan Council for the Prevention of Abuse. The decision comes a month after he took the reins, when he promised to look into every allegation, including those against his predecessor.
According to the local news outlet BioBio, the council would be mostly made up by lay men and women who have ties with the diocese, and they’ve reportedly already been contacted. The scope of the body would be to listen and process allegations, create an investigative team and an interdisciplinary one that brings support to the victim.
News of the creation of this council came almost simultaneously with the Chilean police arresting a priest who, until January, was tasked with receiving allegations of clerical sexual abuse in Santiago.
Father Óscar Muñoz Toledo, former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, was removed from that position on Jan. 2, days before Francis’s visit to the country. He was arrested earlier this week, after police found evidence in the archives of the archdiocese showing there were allegations against him dating back to 2002.
According to local paper La Tercera, there are at least seven victims, five of whom were his nephews.
He was arrested by police on the orders of prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who is investigating 14 other suspended priests in the southern diocese of Rancagua for allegedly participating in a network of abuse. He’s scheduled to be taken to court on Friday. Authorities are investigating whether he had accomplices.
Bishops in Peru want Vatican reveal abuser’s sentence
In neighboring Peru, neo-Cardinal Pedro Barreto said on Wednesday that the bishops are going to ask the Vatican to make public its sentence against layman Luis Fernando Figari, founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), who’s been found guilty by the organization he founded of sexually abusing minors.
Describing Figari as a “perverted person,” Barreto recalled that when he was going back to Rome after his trip to Chile and Peru in January, he’d said that the sentence against the layman would come “in the next month.”
According to the cardinal, the “very strong” sentence from the Vatican has, in fact, been issued but kept private. The bishops from Peru want the ruling to be made public, so that the faithful know that the situation is being addressed.
Figari continues to deny wrongdoing and has appealed. The Vatican is expected to make its decision public after a ruling on the second appeal, unless the Peruvian bishops manage to convince the Holy See of the importance of doing so earlier.
Barreto, created a cardinal by Pope Francis last June, said that when it comes to Figari, the Church has “been slow, and justice that is slow is not justice,” and that it’s lacked transparency.
In January, Francis appointed Colombian Bishop Noel Antonio Londoño Buitrago as “commissioner” of the SCV, but Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark, will continue in his role as papal delegate for the organization, especially concerning economic matters.
The SCV, which includes consecrated laywomen as well as priests, is governed by a group of celibate laymen known as “sodalits.” Founded in 1971 and approved by the Vatican in 1997, the group has around 20,000 members mostly in Latin America, but also in the United States and Italy.