Chile bishops prepare for papal dressing down over abuse

Santiago (AFP) –


Around 30 Chilean bishops have begun arriving in Rome for what is widely expected to be a dressing-down by Pope Francis over years of sexual abuse within the Chilean Church.

The bishops were joining Francis at the Vatican "with humility and hope," the Chilean Bishops Conference said Thursday, ahead of talks beginning Monday that are likely to result in a major shake-up of the Chilean hierarchy.

Francis summoned the bishops to Rome in an April 12 letter saying he intended to discuss an investigation into an alleged cover-up by Bishop Juan Barros of abuse by pedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.

He requested their assistance in finding measures "to repair the scandal as much as possible and restore justice."

One of those accused of the cover-up, Andres Arteaga, the auxiliary bishop of Santiago, will not be attending, the Episcopal Conference said in its statement, citing health reasons.

Media reports in Santiago said neither would Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, a member of the powerful Vatican C9 committee tasked with advising Francis on Vatican reform.

Errazuriz stands accused by victims of ignoring repeated complaints against Karadima.

- Signal of Change -

"The pope is seeking to send a signal of change, otherwise he would not summon us to Rome. This is not to pay homage or to give us a pat on the back," Bishop Luis Infanti of the diocese of Aysen, told Chile's La Tercera newspaper.

"What I forsee is a great shake-up in the Chilean Church, for example, that bishops are removed....and that it gives a new course to the Church in Chile," Aysen said.

The series of meetings provide an opportunity for Francis to repair some of the damage done during his visit to Chile in January, which turned into a media fiasco after he said he was convinced of Barros' innocence and demanded "proof" of abuse before he would speak out against him.

He later had to apologize to the victims and last month admitted "grave mistakes" after reading a 2,300-page report on the abuse in Chile.

The report included the testimony of 64 people gathered in Santiago and New York by renowned Vatican investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Around 80 Chilean clergymen have been involved in sexual abuse cases in recent years, according to a victims' association.

The 81-year-old pontiff, who hosted three of Karadima's victims at his Vatican residence in April, acknowledged he had made "grave mistakes in my perception of the situation."

But the pope's complaints of a lack of "truthful and balanced information" which led to his misstep has put the spotlight on the Papal Nuncio in Santiago, Ivo Scapolo, and Errazuriz.

Vatican watchers say they are likely to be sanctioned, as well as Santiago Archbishop Ricardo Ezatti, who also ignored complaints against Karadima.

"We reiterate our union with Pope Francis in the pain and shame expressed against crimes committed against children and adults in ecclesial environments," the Conference said in a statement.

One of Karadima's victims, Jose Andres Murillo, said he had told the pope in his audience how important it was to understand that sexual abuse was "abuse of power" and "the need to take responsibility...not just forgiveness."

Chilean church watchers say the pope has to act to remove Barros from his duties and order the reorganization of the local hierarchy.

- 'Laboratory' -

Francis' letter to the bishops "prepares for measures going much further than the departure of Barros," Cristian Parker of the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Santiago, told AFP.

"The pope will have to take measures concerning all the bishops and the structures of the Church, so that in future he will be sure that the channels of communication are reliable."

And "that will provoke a sort of earthquake in the Church in Chile, especially in the hierarchy," Parker said.

"Chile is currently a laboratory in which Francis is risking part of his credibility," said Jose Manuel Vidal, a Spanish Vatican watcher and director of the online newspaper "Digital Religion."

Local Catholic groups in Barros's diocese have since demanded that Francis remove the bishop for his ties to Karadima, who the Vatican in 2011 found guilty of abusing children in the 1980s and 1990s and ordered to retire to a life of penitence.