ROME – A former Chilean Catholic priest is denying charges of sexual abuse despite a ruling from the Vatican, insisting that it was his bishop, not him, who had the problem.
Bishop Gonzalo Duarte is trying to “clean his image” at the expense of former priest Jaime da Fonseca, says the defrocked man who was removed from priestly ministry by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy earlier this year.
According to a statement from the Diocese of Valparaiso, the congregation received an investigation in May presented by Duarte, who’s been accused not only of covering up for priests such as Da Fonseca, but also of having himself committed abuse.
Pope Francis accepted Duarte’s resignation in June, though the Vatican never clarified if it was due to the fact that he’s reached the age of 75, when it’s mandatory for every bishop to offer his resignation, or in light of the allegations.
In May, all the Chilean bishops presented their resignations to the pope after Francis said that he had evidence proving some are guilty not only of a “systemic cover-up,” but also of destroying evidence and other charges.
Crux has obtained a letter dated Oct. 10, 2008, in which another bishop acknowledged to one of the alleged victims that there are complaints against Duarte in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which deals with clerical sexual abuse crimes against minors.
The statement made by the Diocese of Valparaiso contains a “reminder” of the fact that the Congregation for Clergy handles ecclesiastical discipline, which is different from the CDF’s responsibility for abuse cases.
Several allegations against Da Fonseca have been made public, not only of sexual abuse but also of abuse of power and conscience. It’s unclear why his case was reviewed by the Congregation for Clergy and not the CDF, when at least one of the victims who spoke with Crux reported that the former priest was abusive towards him when he was still a minor.
In a letter sent to the Chilean newspaper Mercurio of Valparaiso, the diocese where the abuse and alleged cover-up happened, Da Fonseca says he “denies any action that has a genital meaning.” The priest also denies that he has run off to Peru to avoid a civil trial: “I’m still in Chile,” he said.
The former priest also says that Duarte “achieved what he wanted: To try to clean his image at the expense of others.”
According to the former priest, the bishop “didn’t allow me to defend myself.”
“He says he sent my record to the Congregation for Clergy and it wasn’t so,” Da Fonseca wrote in his letter. “It was I who informed the cardinal prefect that the bishop had been imprudent. But I was corrected from Rome: ‘It’s not an imprudence, it’s a crime, and it’s called prevarication and abuse of authority’,” he quoted the Vatican letter as saying.
Da Fonseca by now is known as the “Karadima of the Valparaiso region,” in reference to Father Fernando Karadima, the country’s most infamous pedophile priest, who in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penitence and prayer.
Despite his attack against the bishop, Da Fonseca said he doesn’t believe the accusations against the prelate, that as Crux reported earlier this week, include abuses of power and conscience with a sexual connotation — he is accused of asking at least one former seminarian to massage his back while the two were alone in the bishop’s residence.
Crux spoke with one of Da Fonseca’s victims, who requested his identity be withheld.
“When I spoke with Duarte in early June, he told me that he’d heard allegations of more than 70 people against Father Jaime Da Fonseca [who served as a spiritual director], but that he’d never believed them,” the survivor, a former seminarian, said last week.
The victim, who Crux has identified as “John Doe,” has testified that Da Fonseca, his spiritual director in the seminary, raped him when he was allegedly going to give ‘Doe’ an injection because he was feeling more tired than normal.
A second victim, Mauricio Pulgar, spoke to Crux about the abuses of another priest, all from the Diocese of Valparaiso. However, he mentioned Da Fonseca both in the interview and in his formal complaint to ecclesial authorities in 2012.
In the complaint he said that during the two years he was in the minor seminary, when the former priest was his spiritual director and confessor, Da Fonseca allegedly would have Pulgar sit down while he remained standing, and when the time came to grant absolution, according to the survivor, the priest would push his head towards his genitals.
“I resisted, because it wasn’t normal. And for my rebellious attitude, he qualified me as someone with affective problems,” Pulgar wrote.
Military ordinariate also under investigation
In recent weeks, several Chilean dioceses, including Santiago, the country’s capital, have been raided by civil authorities as part of ongoing investigations both for abuse and cover-up, as most crimes were never reported to the police.
On Thursday the country’s military ordinariate saw police and personnel of the regional prosecutor’s office coming in with boxes, which were filled during a six-hour raid.
The military ordinariate is an “organism of the State, and is part of the Armed Forces,” said prosecutor Miguel Ángel Velásquez, adding that “every public servant” who has knowledge of a crime “is obliged to denounce it.”
This would apply both to the current military bishop, Santiago Silva, and his predecessor, Bishop Juan Barros.
Barros is one of four bishops who were members of Karadima’s inner circle, and Francis removed him from office after publicly defending him, originally calling allegations that he had covered up crimes by his mentor “calumnies.”
Silva, still in office and currently president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, has been accused of covering up for at least two priests in Valparaiso during his time there as auxiliary bishop. Two of the victims who spoke with Crux in recent days said that they had informed Silva after they were abused.