Chilean cardinal addresses case of sex abuse in Santiago cathedral

Chilean cardinal addresses case of sex abuse in Santiago cathedral

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago de Chile in St. Peter's Square, Feb. 22, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago de Chile in St. Peter's Square, Feb. 22, 2014. Credit: Alan Holdren/CNA.

.- Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago on Thursday denied knowing and giving  money to the complainant in a rape case in the cathedral which took place in 2015.

The Archbishop of Santiago gave an interview to Informe Especial which was broadcast March 7.

In the interview, he discussed a rape complaint against Fr. Rigoberto Tito Rivera Muñoz, who was found guilty in August 2018 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the sexual abuse of adults.

Rivera sexually assaulted Daniel Rojas Alvarez, who was then about 40, in a room of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in 2015.

Rojas claims he told Cardinal Ezzati of the attack during a confession, and that the archbishop asked him to pray for the abuser, gave him 30,000 pesos ($45), and asked that he not asked him not to share what happened.

In the Informe Especial interview, Ezzati said: “I hear confessions in the cathedral, especially during the time of Holy Week, but I am not aware of having heard his confession, because I don't know him and still less am I aware of giving him a hug and telling him that a priest would give him some money in my name, that's not it, this is all very unfortunate, but that's not the case, I understand that he may feel what he feels, and I have complete esteem and all my affection for him, because of what he has suffered,” he said.

Asked if he ever had contact with Rojas, the cardinal said “no.”

Regarding the processing of the case, Ezzati explained that the complaint was received by the Pastoral Office for Complaints: “It came to the archdiocese a few days later and immediately the archbishop ordered a preliminary investigation.”

“Within a few hours and a few days later that the investigator, Fr. Walker, conducted a preliminary investigation, which he gave to me, I received a phone call in which I was told  that the Holy See had asked the nunciature to review [Rivera's] situation because of a complaint that had come to them. I don't know what complaint, so consequently I immediately sent all the documentation where appropriate.”

Regarding the time elapsed between the filing of the complaint and calling in the victim (to testify), Cardinal Ezzati pointed out that “in 2016 the investigation was already done. What also happened is that they were never able to get Daniel's address. Except toward the end, Daniel gave (us) his e-mail, and he was able to be able contacted there.”

Asked about his responsibility in the abuse scandals within the Church, the cardinal said that “without a doubt one of the tasks that has fallen on me, and very painful, very shameful, very humiliating, is to take in hand the cases that are being reported and have been reported.”

“What I can tell you with a lot of transparency and with a lot of peace, we certainly could have made some mistakes, we're not infallible, I'm not infallible, but that in all the cases that have been reported to the Archdiocese of Santiago, for which since 2011 I have been responsible, all, all the cases have been investigated, and all cases are investigated, and what people reported before then, and they are in the process of being resolved.”

Concerning the accusations for alleged cover-up of abuse in which at least ten priests are implicated, Cardinal Ezzati said that “the justice system has to determine that. I am very much at peace and  I am willing, and as I have always said, I am at the disposal of the justice system if they want to investigate and they have the complete freedom to do so.”  

Asked about a bill which seeks to take away his Chilean citizenship, Ezzati (a native of Italy) said it “that pains me immensely, foremost because I was granted citizenship by indult and the decree sets out the reasons.”

He said that “the authorities are certainly free to take the path they want” and “personally I think it's unjust, but I am going to continue to work as archbishop as long as the Holy See asks me to do so.”

“After (they do that), as a priest with no complaints about what I was able to contribute at this time in the history of Chile, whether as an educator or as a pastor, I am going to continue working because what I am interested in is not titles, but was I am interested in is people,” he concluded.

The Archdiocese of Santiago stated last week that it received a complaint of possible abuse of minors by Rivera in August 2011, but that during enquiries into the case “it was not possible to contact the complainant.”

The Pastoral Office for Complaints then received a complaint against Rivera from an adult in March 2015, which permitted the start of a preliminary investigation and the implementation of the precautionary measure of removing the priest from all pastoral responsibilities.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the request of the Santiago archdiocese, “gave new instructions to continue the preliminary investigation and to start an administrative penal process” in September 2016.

The preliminary investigation was closed in November 2016, leading to the administrative penal process which concluded with the Decree of Condemnation of Aug. 16, 2018.

The priest was declared “guilty of crimes against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue continued  over time and involving scandal, with adults, as is specified in Canon 1395§1 of the Code of Canon Law,” the archdiocese said.

Rivera was suspended from public ministry for ten years, “only being able to celebrate the Eucharist privately and with the company of a person over 50 years of age.”

He was also prohibited from “meeting with or maintaining contact with young people” and was required not to move anywhere.

Once the ten years are completed, if the priest does not comply with the measures, he risks “being suspended for a greater period of time.”

The archdiocese also noted that these four penalties were “among others.”

It concluded, saying that “besides the canonical sentence which was implemented  in September 2018, an exhaustive review was begun to clarify all the information that was made known publicly.”

Cardinal Ezzati has faced accusations that he was involved in covering up the crimes of other abusive priests, including Fernando Karadima and Oscar Munoz Toledo.

Tags: Clerical Abuse, Church in Chile, Sex abuse, Archdiocese of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati