As Pope ponders Chile, criminal prosecutors charge full steam ahead

As Pope ponders Chile, criminal prosecutors charge full steam ahead

As Pope ponders Chile, criminal prosecutors charge full steam ahead

Pope Francis and 34 Chilean bishops began a meeting late May 15 to discuss the clerical sexual abuse crisis in Chile. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)

Pope Francis may be pondering his choices in Chile, but the local criminal justice system is charging full steam ahead.

ROME — As Pope Francis continues to ponder his response to the Chilean sexual abuse crisis, having accepted the resignations of only five bishops after all of them offered to step down in May, the local criminal justice system is marching full steam ahead, with four dioceses raided on Thursday as part of an ongoing investigation into abuse and cover-ups by bishops.

The raids, conducted simultaneously and requested by general prosecutor Emiliano Arias, hit the dioceses of Valparaiso, Chillan, Osorno and Concepcion. Images published by local media showed authorities walking out of buildings after seizing documents.

Until June, when Francis accepted his resignation, Valparaiso was headed by Bishop Gonzalo Duarte, who’s been accused by victims of not only cover-up but abuse himself.

Mauricio Pulgar is one of several survivors from the seminary of San Rafael of Lo Vazque, in Valparaiso. He entered in 1993, after he’d turn 17. Soon after, he said, seminarians were forced to get naked one night and go into the pool with their formation director.

“The mental torture and punishment began,” Pulgar said.

Pulgar has told the police, papal envoy Charles Scicluna and Crux that he saw Duarte kissing a seminarian on the mouth “without his consent,” and slapping a student for refusing to reciprocate. That student is today a priest who left the seminary after his third year, tired of the harassment.

Today, Pulgar says he was also sexually abused by Father Humberto Henriquez. He collected evidence, including a tape of the priest begging for Pulgar not to come forward, and tried to present it to Duarte, who allegedly refused to see him. In 2012, he made a canonical complaint to the papal representative in the country, but nothing came of it.

RELATED: Victims recount sexual abuse horrors in Chilean seminary

On the same day, June 11, that the pontiff accepted Duarte’s resignation, he also approved that of the Bishop of Osorno, Juan Barros, long identified by the victims of pedophile priest Fernando Karadima as being one of four bishops in Chile who covered up for Karadima’s crimes.

Before Osorno, where the pontiff transferred Barros in 2015 amid uproar from both laity and survivors’ groups, the bishop was in charge of the country’s military ordinariate. Barros has been subpoenaed by authorities under charges of cover-up.

No official explanation has been given as to why the pope accepted their resignations, something victims have long demanded to know.

Chillan is headed by Bishop Carlos Pellegrin, who is himself accused of abuse. He was investigated back in 2011 over a series of anonymous allegations, but new ones arose last month, so he’s being investigated again by the local prosecutor on charges of abuse.

Concepcion is led by Archbishop Fernando Chomali, the former apostolic administrator of Osorno, who’s been rumored as a possible successor to Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, one of seven bishops being investigated on charges of either abuse or cover-up.

Thursday’s raids were only the latest in a string of similar events which included examinations of the archives of the Chilean bishops’ conference, the archdiocese of Santiago, the country’s capital, the diocese of Rancagua, and the military ordinariate.

Rancagua and Santiago were raided over allegations against Father Oscar Muñoz, former chancellor of Santiago, who began his priestly career in Rancagua. He reported himself in late December for having abused a minor. Since then, it’s become clear that he’s actually abused several minors, most of them his nephews.

It’s presumed that information found in these initial raids is what led to the subsequent inspections.

A source in Chile told Crux that for victims and survivors, “the raids give a sense of hope,” because there’s been great progress as a result of the civil investigations.

“A lot of truth has come to light because of them, and the processes to see if there was cover-up or grave negligence have sped up,” the source said.

He did say, however, that there are victims who today are afraid the testimony they’ve given to Church authorities will be leaked to the press without their consent, making public something they would rather keep private. Despite this fear, the source, who’s worked with survivors for years, said he believes the net result of the raids is positive, because a majority of victims celebrate them “profusely.”

Regarding local expectations over the Vatican action, the source said the “people of God are anxiously waiting.” Because of the raids as well as a listening commission set up by two papal advisors who visited Chile, he said, “more and more cases are coming up.”

For Juan Carlos Claret Pool, one of the spokesmen of a group of laity in Osorno who protested against Barros, the raids signify two things.

“First, it’s evidence that the solution will not come from the bishops of Chile who’ve resigned. Second, it revives our hopes,” he said.

Claret said some of the dioceses raided are those where the bishops “preached about a change of attitude, total transparency and complete collaboration with justice. However, in Concepcion, headed by Chomali, who’s rumored to be a candidate to replace Ricardo Ezzati in Santiago, some 300 folders were taken.”

Claret believes the crisis management done by the Vatican so far has been “deficient.”

“By prolonging basic decisions, in practice a division and scandal has been generated in dioceses where there used to be a relative calm,” he added.

“Victims and the laity have been complaining since June that the bishops are back to business as usual, but [we] found no echo in the Vatican. We were becoming disillusioned, but at least knowing that the Chilean justice system is dealing with it empowers and encourages us.”

In total, seven bishops have been summoned by authorities under charges of either cover-up or abuse, and there could be more after the raids. For instance, if evidence of wrongdoing was found in Valparaiso, it could impact not only Gonzalo Duarte, who had his resignation accepted by the pope in June, but also Bishop Santiago Silva, president of the bishops’ conference and military ordinariate, who previously served as an auxiliary in the diocese.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of Karadima who met with Francis earlier this year, said Silva is part of the problem.

Tweeting about a recently announced meeting between the pope and the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, Cruz said: “The pope wants to meet in February with the heads of the bishops’ conferences and talk about abuse. I wonder who the Chilean bishops’ conference will send if its president, cardinals and various bishops face criminal charges. Maybe in February they will already be in prison.”

Silva has been subpoenaed by local prosecutors on charges of cover-up.

Survivors of Valparaiso have also accused Bishop Francisco Javier Prado, a former auxiliary who moved on to Rancagua, of covering up for abuses in the seminary.

Bishop Alejando Goic, the man tapped to replace Prado in Rancagua, is one of five who had his resignation accepted by Francis earlier this year. It happened after it became clear that he’d ignored accusations against several priests in his diocese of sexual misconduct, including abuses of minors. Again, no explanation was given, so it’s unknown if the pope accepted the resignation due to the allegations or because the bishop is over 75.

In addition to Barros, Ezzati, Silva, Pellegrin and Duarte, two other bishops have had charges brought against them over either abuse or cover-up: Bishops Cristian Contreras and Luis Infanti.

According to the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, Contreras, of San Felipe, is being investigated for allegedly abusing a minor in the bishop’s house a decade ago. The bishop had already been investigated in 2013 by the Vatican, which sent two priests to investigate alleged sexual abuses but no sanctions were imposed.

Infanti, of Aysen, is being investigated for alleged cover-up. The diocese has confirmed there’s an investigation, and said that they have cooperated with the prosecutor’s office.

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