Pope’s ‘never again’ U-turn follows 2,300 page report
Chile’s clerical abuse scandal has led to Pope Francis – who first rejected the claims – promising that the Catholic church will never again ignore victims or cover up their complaints. He said their cries had “reached heaven”.
In a letter addressed to the “People of God” in Chile, Francis thanked survivors for their “courageous perseverance” for speaking out.
He admitted the Church’s “shame” for not listening to them. He said he wanted to place the focus on ordinary believers who will be the salvation and renewal of the church.
This was not a token gesture, he said, but acknowledgement that a church leadership cut off from the people is a “perversion” of ecclesiastical structures.
“Every time it tries to replace, silence, ignore or downsize to small elites the Church is left without a body, and ultimately without life,” he said.
In an eight-page letter the Pope said that now was the time for listening to find solutions for the abuse scandal.
While new “strategies” were essential, they were not enough to heal this “painful open wound” and tackle a complex problem.
“The ‘never again’ to a culture of abuse, and the system of cover-up that allowed it to perpetuate, calls on all of us to work toward a culture of carefulness in our relationships,” Francis wrote. “The whole process of revision and purification that we are living is possible thanks to the effort and perseverance of people who, even against all hopes and amid discredit, have never tired of seeking the truth.
“I am referring to the victims of sexual abuse, abuse of power and abuse of authority and to those who believed in them and accompanied them at the time. Victims whose cry has reached heaven.
“I would like once again to thank the perseverance and courage of them all. This recent period of time has been one of listening and discernment to get to the roots that have allowed these atrocities to occur and perpetuate, and to find solutions to the scandal of abuse not with merely strategies – essential but insufficient – but with all the necessary means to be able to tackle the problem in its complexity.”
This latest abuse scandal centres around celebrity priest Fr Fernando Karadima, now 87 and in a nursing home where he insists he is innocent, in the wealthy Santiago parish of El Bosque. Karadima was a friend of Chile’s former dictator General Augusto Pinochet and at one time was very popular among young people in the country, many of whom he encouraged into the priesthood and many of whom went on to senior positions in the Church and the Vatican.
When accusations about his sexual abuse of young people were first brought to the church by the survivors themselves, senior Church officials in Chile attempted to publicly discredit the victims, among them one of Karadima’s proteges, Bishop Juan Barros.
In 2011 Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican in 2011.
Pope Francis’s appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to lead the Diocese of Osorno in 2015 caused widespread public outrage in Chile.
During a visit to Chile in January of this year Pope Francis upset victims by describing claims of a cover-up abasing Barros as “calumny”.
It led to criticism of his handling of the Church’s sexual abuse scandals.
Last month the Pope summoned all of Chile’s Bishops to the Vatican and demanded they sign letters of resignation The Pope’s letter was released at the end of last week at the same time as it was announced he was sending Vatican investigators – The Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna and Mgr Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who already have experience of investigating of the Chile scandal, back there, this time to Bishop Barros’ Osorno diocese.
They are the two investigators who called him out on his original defence of the Chiliean church hierarchy and presented him with a 2,300 page report detailing evidence against them. It prompted the Pope to apologise for making “serious mistakes” while admitting to having received “untruthful and unbalanced information”.
The problem of abuse in the country, said the Pope, went far beyond just the case of Bishop Barros.
He invited three Chilean sex abuse survivors to his home in the Vatican so he could apologise to them personally and hear their recommendations for change.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the survivors, explained the Pope not only said sorry but admitted that he, Francis, had personally been “part of the problem”.
At the same time Francis reassured him he had nothing to feel bad about for being gay.
“He said to me, ‘Juan Carlos, that’s not a problem.
“You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way,” he said of the meeting although the Vatican would not confirm the Pope’s comments when asked about it later.
Throughout last weekend thePope welcomed Karadima’s victims – including five priests who suffered from “abuses of power, conscience and sex”, two priests who helped the victims and two parishioners – into his home at the Vatican.