Pope to meet Chilean bishops, discuss 'devastating' impact of abuse crisis

Pope Francis in January 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Pope Francis in January 2018. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

.- From May 15-17 Pope Francis will meet with 33 Chilean bishops to share his personal take on the country's massive clerical abuse crisis and help the local Church to find a way forward implementing processes of healing and prevention.

During the discussion, Francis will share his reflections on the results of an investigation into abuse cover-up by Church hierarchy in Chile conducted by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna earlier this year, and the subsequent 2,300 page report he drafted on conclusions of the investigation.

According to a May 12 Vatican communique, Pope Francis, “questioned by the circumstances and the extraordinary challenges that the sexual abuse and abuses of power and conscience planted in Chile in recent decades, considers it necessary to profoundly examine their causes and consequences, as well as the mechanisms which in some cases have led to the cover-up and serious omissions from the victims.”

The objective of the 3-day “synodal process,” the Vatican said, is for the pope and Chilean bishops to place themselves in the presence of God and discern together the culpability of both individuals and of the local Church as a whole “in these devastating wounds.”

They will also study “the adequate and lasting changes” which ought to be implemented in order to prevent the repetition “of these always reprehensible acts.”

Set to take place in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall, the meeting will also be attended by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

The meeting with Chilean bishops falls just two weeks after he held individual meetings with three survivors of clerical sexual abuse from Chile: Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo.

After their meetings with the pope, Cruz, Hamilton and Murillo said they believed Francis was largely misinformed by people around him, and called out Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, nuncio to Chile since 2011, and Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago and a member of Pope Francis' council of cardinal advisors, as main agents in the cover-up.

Notably, last week Errazuriz released a statement saying he will not be present for the meeting with Pope Francis this week, and would be skipping the event due to “personal reasons.”

However, according to sources close to the situation, Errazzuriz booked a ticket to Rome after receiving a call from the pope himself.

Pope Francis invited the survivors to meet with him and at the same time summoned Chilean bishops to Rome April 8 after reading the concluding report of Scicluna's investigation, assisted by Spanish Fr. Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and admitting to having made “serious mistakes” in judgment of the situation given a lack of “truthful and balanced” information.

Initially the investigation was centered around Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was appointed to the diocese in 2015 and who has been accused by Cruz and several others of not only covering up Karadima's abuses, but at times also participating.

Allegations were also made against three other bishops – Andrés Arteaga, Tomislav Koljatic and Horacio Valenzuela – who Karadima's victims accuse of also covering the abuser's crimes.

While on the ground Scicluna interviewed some 64 people, most of whom were victims, but the scale of the investigation went beyond Barros. It is said to be much more extensive, including details from other cases, such as the Marist Brothers, who are currently under canonical investigation after allegations of sexual abuse by some of the members surfaced in August 2017.

Pope Francis had previous defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop's guilt, and called accusations against him “calumny” during a trip to Chile in January.

However, after receiving Scicluna's report, Francis issued his major “mea culpa” and asked to meet the bishops and more outspoken survivors in person.

In the May 12 communique, the Vatican said Pope Francis is grateful to his brother bishops in Chile for “being attentive to the docile and humble listening to the Holy Spirit,” and he renews his appeal to Catholics in Chile “to continue in a state of prayer so that the conversion of all might take place.”

No public statement or press release is expected after the encounter in order to ensure confidentiality.

This article was updated at 6p.m. local time with information on Errazzuriz's visit to Rome.

Tags: Catholic News, Church in Chile, Pope Francis