Chilean bishops meet to discuss sexual abuse scandal

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis meets with the Chilean bishops in the sacristy of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral, Jan. 16, 2018. Credit: Vatican Media.

The Chilean bishops convened Monday for the start of a week-long assembly on the sexual abuse scandal in the Church in their country.

The meeting was organized to examine the causes of the ongoing abuse crisis and to establish national guidelines for dioceses on how to handle abuse cases. The July 30 – Aug. 3 assembly is taking place in Punta de Tralca, about 40 miles northwest of Melipilla.

Civil authorities in Chile are carrying out investigations into sexual abuse in the Church spanning 266 alleged victims and 158 Church officials.

Starting Aug. 1, four religious superiors, two deacons, two bishops’ conference department-heads, two lay people from the conference’s prevention council, and two representatives of a conference of religious men and women in Chile will also be present at the bishops’ assembly.

Bishop Santiago Jaime Silva Retamales of Chile's military diocese, president of the Chilean bishop' conference, said he has confidence the extraordinary assembly will contribute to the discussion of what the Church should do going forward.

According to the press agency of the Chilean bishops July 27, Bishop Silva said the bishops are “fully aware that the Lord of history, Jesus Christ, will know how to make fundamental renovations with willing hearts.”

“These paths that we seek with determination, paths of truth and justice, reparation and accompaniment, will help us to be a Church more and more similar to the one Jesus Christ dreams of,” he said.

Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Perez, Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago and secretary general of the bishops’ conference, said the meeting is the next step on the “path of discernment to take on the challenges” Pope Francis asked them to address in their meeting with him in May.

Bishop Ramos said meetings were held within the dioceses, and the reflections and proposals from those gatherings will inform this week’s assembly.

The most recent development in Chile’s investigations into the sexual abuse scandal is the summoning of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, a past president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, for questioning by local authorities.

A statement released by the archdiocese confirmed that the cardinal had received a summons and would meet with prosecutors Aug. 21.

Cardinal Ezzati’s questioning will focus on what the cardinal knew about his former archdiocesan chancellor, Fr. Oscar Munoz Toledo, who was arrested July 12 following allegations he sexually abused seven minors.

Munoz has already admitted to sexually abusing one minor, but investigators believe the archdiocese may have been aware of as many as four of his victims. Cardinal Ezzati has been called as prosecutors weigh his involvement in a potential cover-up of Munoz’s crimes.

Cardinal Ezzati denies any participation in covering up abuse. He is quoted as saying, “I reiterate my commitment, and that of the Church of Santiago, to the victims, to the search for truth and with respect to civil justice.”

“I have never covered up nor obstructed justice, and as a citizen I will comply with my duty to provide all the information that helps to clarify the facts.”

So far, Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of five Chilean bishops. Cardinal Ezzati submitted his resignation to the pope in May, together with the rest of the Chilean episcopate, but it has not yet been accepted.

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