MIAMI – Four former Chilean seminarians, all survivors of clerical sexual abuse, are coming forward at the end of the plenary meeting of the local bishops, demanding justice be done for those abused in the seminary of Valparaiso some 60 miles from Santiago.
The four are Mauricio Pulgar, Sebastian del Rio, Marcelo Soto and Marcelo Rodriguez. Father Eugenio de la Fuente, who met with Pope Francis earlier this year in Rome as part of a group of nine priests and laity abused in one form or another by former priest Fernando Karadima, and also signed their public declaration and a letter to Bishop Pedro Ossandón.
Ossandón was appointed as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Valparaiso after Francis accepted the resignation, on June 11, of former Bishop Gonzalo Duarte.
Duarte, who was 75 at the time, has long been accused by the four survivors of not only cover-up but also of abuse of power and of conscience as well as sexual harassment.
In a statement made public on Friday morning in Chile, the four victims said they were speaking up as “survivors and complainants of serious abuses of power, conscience and of sexual nature” during the pastoral government of Duarte and his Auxiliary Bishop Santiago Silva.
Silva today is the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference and has been subpoenaed by the civil prosecutor’s office to give testimony regarding alleged cover-up of clerical sexual abuse in his role as military bishop.
The survivors wrote that Ossandón has invited them to work as part of a group addressing the sexual abuse crisis in the diocese only days after taking possession: “We agreed with the best disposition and hope, confident that after years of cover-up the truth would finally be heard.”
However, after three meetings they’ve learned that the five priests they’ve accused of abuse were all investigated in the diocese in 2012, by a single priest in a period of three months, and all were found to be innocent. The investigation, they wrote, was carried out by the current Bishop of Copiapó, Celestino Aos.
Seeing that most of the abusive priests are either sanctioned, have left the priesthood or are being investigated due to new allegations, the job done by Aos, they said, seems “totally irregular and superficial.”
They also find it alarming that the apostolic administrator refuses to accept the testimony of three of the four victims against the five priests as “new allegations,” particularly seeing that Ossandón has claimed he cannot investigate the priests- or former priests- again due to lack of new allegations.
“We are particularly concerned that these new allegations are not being considered because they involve testimonies of abuses and cover-ups by Duarte, and of cover-up by Silva,” they said.
The survivors write that they find it to be “irregular and insulting” that Duarte accompanies the new Apostolic Administrator Ossandón at Masses, replaces him in some pastoral activities, and in general seems to “have an active life in the diocese.”
In addition to the charges against him made to ecclesial authorities, including Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, sent by Francis with Spaniard Father Jordi Bertomeu to Chile to investigate the situation of the local church, Duarte is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office. He’s one of eight, without taking into account Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, who the prosecutors said on Wednesday will soon be summoned under charges of cover-up.
The first investigation conducted by Scicluna and Bertomeu led to the resignation en masse of every Chilean bishop. Francis has accepted the resignation of seven, and he’s on record saying he will also accept that of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago.
The survivors, who spoke with the local media on Friday, said that they had expressed all their concerns to Ossandón in a letter addressed to him on Oct. 15, 2018, which has not been answered.
“We consider our trust betrayed, and unfortunately we perceive that inviting us to the table had a media intention rather than a concern for people,” the survivors wrote.
They also said they’re disappointed by the silence of the Vatican, particularly the Congregation for Bishops headed by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, seeing that the continued allegations against Duarte and Silva and one they posed this year against Bishop Javier Prado Aranguiz have been met with silence.
“From the Holy See, there is simply no response, not even an acknowledgment of receipt,” they write. “This insults us, harms us and re-victimizes us. It’s a serious fault against zero tolerance … by a department of the Holy See that clearly does not accept the guidelines of the Holy Father in his fight against the culture of abuse and concealment.”
Crux obtained a copy of the letter the survivors sent to Ossadon in which they raise the same concerns, adding that all four have gone through “a very long road of years- too many years- without having been heard, adding to the abuse we suffered.”
“All of us who have been victims in the Diocese of Valparaíso were victims of an abusive system of power, conscience and sexual perversion, promoted and allowed for years,” they wrote. “In that sense, we are united. If any of us is left out and their abuse is not recognized, we perceive it as something that happens to us all. The government of Gonzalo Duarte and his auxiliary bishop Santiago Silva was a perverse system in which we were all abused.”
Crux previously spoke with the four victims, who have several things in common, including the fact that they were all seminarians at the time of the abuses, and all went to the corresponding ecclesial authorities – who, they say, did nothing, beyond guaranteeing that the victims never became priests.
Three bishops have been accused of covering up for abuses that date to the early 1990s: Bishop Francisco Javier Prado, former auxiliary bishop of Valparaiso who would move on to Rancagua, as well as Silva and Duarte.
Francis hasn’t accepted a resignation from a Chilean bishop since Sept. 21, when he accepted that of Bishop Cristian Contreras of San Felipe, who’s being investigated for cover-up, but also for allegedly abusing a minor in the bishop’s house decades ago; and Carlos Pellegrin, former head of the diocese of Chillan, who is also accused of abuse.
Francis, however, has removed two priests and two bishops from the clerical state, announcing all four through the Vatican press office, an uncommon measure as such sanctions often remain private.