AFP reports that Chilean Catholic bishops apologised on Friday for having “failed” victims of sexual abuse and promised to work with prosecutors to prevent a repeat of the crimes dating back five decades.
“We failed in our duty as pastors by not listening to, believing, caring for or accompanying the victims of terrible sins and injustices committed by priests and religious lay people,” the Church said in a statement at the end of five days of meetings by Chile’s Episcopal Conference. “For this we apologise first and foremost to the victims and survivors.”
Last week, Chilean prosecutors said they were investigating 158 members of the church, both priests and lay people. The cases related back as far as the 1960s and involved 266 victims, including 178 children and adolescents.
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.”
Previously, bishops had insisted that canonical law prevail over criminal law.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, a former official of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, a current official of the congregation were given the responsibility to investigate the case by Pope Francis.