Dismissing Karadima from the clerical state will do little to help the crisis

Pope Francis arrives to leads a consistory for the creation of fourteen new cardinals on June 28, 2018 at St Peter's Basilica in Vatican. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has “laicised” Chile’s most notorious abuser-priest, Fernando Karadima. He took the step on Thursday, September 27, effective immediately. A statement in Spanish from the Press Office of the Holy See released on Friday afternoon in Rome, announced the measure.

Karadima was convicted and sentenced – in 2011 – to a life of prayer and penance. He is 88 years old, and reported to be in failing health. He is a symptom of the disease plaguing the Church, but he is hardly a lynchpin of the corrupt power structure, either in Chile or in other places.

Press Office director Greg Burke told reporters: “There are two keys to understanding this decree: the first, that the Pope does [this] in conscience. The second key, the motivation: for the good of the Church.”

Burke went on to say: “Pope Francis is acting as a pastor, as a father, for the good of the entire People of God.

“The dismissal from the clerical state of Fernando Karadima is another step in the iron line of Pope Francis on abuse. We were facing a very serious case of rot and it had to be rooted out.”

Anyone intrigued by the use of the past tense will be reassured to know that Burke clarified the point for the Catholic Herald: he was referring specifically and exclusively to Karadima’s case, not to the whole Chilean theatre of the crisis.

“This is an exceptional measure,” Burke recognised in his remarks to reporters, “but the serious crimes of Karadima have done exceptional damage in Chile.”

The measure is indeed exceptional: it comes to punishment by fiat.

Considering the decision in light of the global crisis, it appears arguably typical of a leader who perceives the need to be seen doing something – anything – but either knows not what to do, or dares not do it.

The Chilean crisis has been simmering for decades. It exploded in January, when Pope Francis repeatedly accused three of Karadima’s victims of calumny, prompting sustained popular outcry around the world and garnering intense media scrutiny that shows no signs of abating.

The laicisation of Fernando Karadima is not likely to be a major part of any solution to the grave crisis engulfing the Church in Chile. For one thing, the octogenarian is no longer a danger, and is punished for his crimes. If anything, removing him from the clerical state lessens the practical control Church authorities have over him. It may well be that the sentence Karadima received in 2011 – a life of prayer and penance – was too light. Nevertheless, it was the sentence the trial court imposed – seven years, eight months and 11 days before Pope Francis’s extraordinary measure.

Karadima’s laicisation also sets in relief the things Pope Francis has not done in Chile, where prosecutors have raided several diocesan chanceries, other offices, and even the offices of the Chilean bishops’ conference.

The written release from the Press Office stated: “The Holy Father has exercised his ‘ordinary power, which is supreme, full, immediate and universal in the Church’ (Code of Canon Law, canon 331), conscious of his service to the people of God as successor of St Peter.” That same ordinary power allows him to do many other things: to depose bishops, for example, though he has thus far limited himself to accepting a handful of resignations from Chilean prelates – seven of them, all told – and he has taken eight months to get to that point.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Francisco Javier  Errázuriz, emeritus of Santiago de Chile, remains a cleric in good standing, even though he is accused of covering up for Karadima – charges he vigorously denies – as well as a member of the “C9” Council of Cardinal Advisers, the Pope’s “kitchen cabinet” of trusted counsellors to whom he has given the task of drafting the blueprint for the reform of the Church’s central governing and administrative apparatus, the Roman Curia.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati – Errazuriz’s successor in Santiago – is still in his see, though he likewise faces serious charges – which he also denies – including covering up of abuse.

Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the Apostolic Nuncio to Chile, also retains his appointment, even though he has been criticised for his role in the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros, a close associate of Karadima, to the Diocese of Osorno. The Barros affair led to the extraordinary summons of the entire Chilean episcopate, and the submission of their resignations en masse, earlier this year.

Before the ecclesiastical politics, however, there is a prior consideration to make: Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he believes “clericalism” to be at the root of the crisis.

Right or wrong, it cannot escape the consideration of any candid observer, that the worst possible measure Church law as currently written envisions and places at the disposal of the Supreme Pastor and Governor of the Church on earth for the punishment of any cleric guilty of grave wrongdoing, is to make that cleric a layman.