Chilean Cardinal Francisco Errázuriz, a close papal advisor who is facing fierce backlash over allegations that he covered up for the country’s most notorious abuser priest, is not participating in this week’s round of advisory meetings in Rome.
According to Chilean paper La Tercera, Errázuriz, one of nine members of the Pope Francis’s Council of Cardinals, was unable to make the Sept 10-12 meetings due to “unforeseen events” in Chile.
The paper cited Church sources who said that due to the inconvenience, Francis excused Errázuriz from participating in the meetings, and that “there are no other reasons” for his absence.
The Vatican declined to comment on the report.
The council, also called the “C9”, issued a statement on Monday asking Francis to reflect on the “work, structure and composition of the council, taking into account the advanced age of some members.”
Errázuriz, who led the Archdiocese of Santiago from 1998-2010, has faced heat in Chile for years over accusations that at best he was negligent in failing to act on accusations brought forward against Father Fernando Karadima, found guilty of abuses of power, conscience and sex by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011, and at worst, he willfully covered the priest’s crimes.
Rumors spread in Chilean media last month that both Errázuriz and Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy and who is currently facing charges of historical sexual abuse in his native Australia, would be removed from the council.
With the end of the body’s 5-year mandate, which will expire in October, drawing near, many have speculated that there will be an inevitable shake-up of the C9’s membership, offering an opportunity to remove Errázuriz, Pell and possibly other members smoothly without making a scene.
In a tweet referencing Errázuriz’s absence from the meetings in Rome, Chilean clerical abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who has accused the cardinal of cover-up, said he thinks Errázuriz will be getting off easy if he leaves at the normal expiration of the council’s mandate, saying, “I would like your departure not to be so elegant.”
The last time Errázuriz announced he would be missing a Rome appointment was in May, when the rest of the country’s bishops traveled to Rome to meet with Francis to address the national abuse crisis in the Church. At the time, Errázuriz said he would not be attending due to “personal reasons,” however, in the end, he showed up along with 31 of his fellow prelates.
As part of their meetings this week, the council is expected to discuss the final draft of a new document outlining the structure and function of a reformed Roman Curia. Tentatively titled Praedicate Evangelium (Preach the Gospel), the document will be an apostolic constitution and will be the final fruit of five years’ work.
In their Sept. 10 statement, the council also offered their “full solidarity” with Francis, who is facing enormous pressure after the publication of a searing 11-page statement from a former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, saying Francis knew about allegations of misconduct with seminarians by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was removed from the College of Cardinals in June following credible accusations that he had abused minors nearly 50 years ago, and did nothing.
So far Francis has refused to engage Vigano’s accusations, telling reporters on his Aug. 26 flight from Dublin to Rome to “read the statement attentively, and you make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this.”
Francis has received fierce backlash in some Catholic circles for the response, however, his advisory council also said in their statement that they were aware that “the Holy See is working on formulating the potential and necessary clarifications” to the allegations made by Vigano, though it is currently unknown when those clarifications will come.