ROME—It’s taken years, a trip to Rome, a papal scolding and en masse resignations, but the bishops of Chile now have acknowledged publicly that they’ve collectively “failed” to protect children from clerical sexual abuse.
“We have failed in our role as pastors, for not having listened, believed, attended or accompanied the victims of grave sins and injustices committed by priests and religious,” the bishops said in a statement closing an extraordinary general assembly dedicated to addressing the ongoing crisis in the local Church.
Allegations against several members of the Chilean Church, in particular Bishop Juan Barros, accused of covering up for his mentor, pedophile priest Fernando Karadima, prompted Pope Francis to open an investigation that has led to him accepting the resignation of five bishops, and observers believe he’ll accept several more in upcoming months.
In addition, the pope’s stance opened the floodgates for the Chilean prosecutors to look into abuses committed by clergy, most of which had gone unreported to civil authorities, even after the priests were found guilty and had been suspended from ministry.
“We didn’t react in time when facing the painful sexual abuses, abuses of power and authority, and for this, we ask for the forgiveness first and foremost of victims and survivors,” said Bishop Santiago Silva, president of the Chilean bishops’ conference.
“Some of us could have been more active and attentive in confronting the pain suffered by the victims, their families and the ecclesial community,” he added.
The bishops also announced a series of measures that will attempt to “give a response and at least begin to solve the grave problem we have in the Church.” These include “absolute availability to cooperate with the prosecutors’ office,” which has 38 open cases, investigating 73 alleged perpetrators who’ve abused over 100 people.
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago, has been summoned by the prosecutors’ office under charges that he covered up cases of abuse, and he’s set to give testimony later this month.
Silva also said that following the next assembly, scheduled for April, the bishops will also announce “mid and long-term” measures to fight clerical sexual abuse and the systematic culture of cover-up that Francis denounced earlier this year.
The bishops have pledged to make public every canonical investigation that has already taken place over presumed cases of abuse of minors, and they requested the superiors of religious congregations to do the same.
Bishop Fernando Ramos, secretary general of the Chilean bishops, was also at the press conference on Friday announcing the new measures. He spoke of a will to make an agreement to guarantee the “fluid transfer of information” that, falling within Church norms, “fits the requirements of the public ministry.”
Regarding the possibility of the Church giving the names of the victims to the prosecutors, the bishop said this is one of the issues that is being discussed.
“Here there’s one key criteria: total disposition to cooperate with the prosecutors, [and] on the basis of this bottom line we’re trying to reach agreement,” Silva said.