SANTIAGO – A Chilean cardinal said in response to child sex abuse cover-up allegations contained in a letter drawn up by Pope Francis that they took him and the country’s other bishops by surprise.
The 10-page document accuses the Chilean Church hierarchy of negligence in protecting children from pedophile priests and of destroying evidence related to child sex crimes.
“It’s news to me, as it’s been news to all the bishops. The information the Holy Father receives, thank God, comes from many places and many people. And it’s the entirety (of the information) that finally provides the full knowledge of things,” Ricardo Ezzati, the arch-bishop of Santiago and a cardinal since 2014, said at a press conference.
The cardinal returned Friday from the Vatican, where he and the rest of Chile’s bishops held a series of meetings with the pope.
During those gatherings, Pope Francis gave them a document containing some of the conclusions of a thorough investigation carried out by Malta Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna into abuses committed by Chilean clergy.
After the meetings, all of Chile’s 34 bishops offered the pope their resignations. It was unclear which, if any, he would accept.
“In communion with (the pope) we want to re-establish justice and contribute to repairing the damage caused,” they wrote in a letter to the pontiff.
Scicluna’s more than 2,000 page report states that some priests who had been expelled from their orders for child sex abuse were transferred to other parishes or dioceses and given responsibilities that put them in direct contact with minors.
It also said that “in not a few cases” serious indications of a crime were “superficially qualified as improbable.”
The report furthermore denounced the “destruction of compromising documents on the part of those in charge of ecclesiastic archives.”
The pontiff had assembled the bishops in the Vatican after acknowledging he had been responsible for “grave errors in judgment” regarding the case of Bishop Juan Barros, who has been accused of ignoring victims of a Chilean priest, Fernando Karadima, despite being aware of the child sex abuse he allegedly perpetrated.
He offered the victims “a heartfelt plea for forgiveness” and committed himself to “repairing the damages caused.”
Sex abuse victims have for years complained that their claims had been ignored or rebutted.
Pope Francis attracted scorn from victims for appointing Barros bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno in 2015 and later publicly defending him from abuse cover-up allegations during a visit to Chile in January of this year.