News Analysis

Vatican: Abuse crisis – Clericalist errors

In the eye of the storm (CNS)

Even now the Pope is relying on priests to be his eyes and ears in Chile

Pope Francis spent portions of this past weekend with a group of five Chilean priests and two lay people, who were victims of abuse in their home country, which is currently embroiled in major crisis over the culture of abuse and cover-up that apparently pervades the clerical culture there. Two other priests who have been accompanying the victims joined the group as well. The weekend meetings the Holy Father held followed similar encounters at the end of April, with three laymen who were also victims of Fr Fernando Karadima, the 87-year-old disgraced former celebrity priest convicted by the Vatican and sentenced in 2011 to a life of prayer and penance.

Following the meetings, one of the priests, Fr Fr Eugenio de la Fuente Lora, told reporters he found Pope Francis to be well informed and full of ideas about how to address the crisis in the country. “[The Pope] has a very deep understanding of the problem,” he said. “He has some very concrete ideas for how to advance, always on the short, medium and long term.”

Pope Francis, however, has thus far given little indication of what his concrete plans are, despite repeated reassurances from various quarters, which say the Pope now has a firm handle on the crisis.

The extent of the corruption in Chile began to be apparent to the outside world in the wake of an investigation into the handling of the Karadima case at the highest levels of Church governance in Chile, conducted by the Pope’s special investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who visited Chile and the United States in February of this year to hear testimony and gather other evidence.

Pope Francis ordered that mission after media pressure and popular outrage over the Pope’s repeated accusations of calumny against Karadima’s accusers, who also accuse one of Karadima’s protégés, Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno (pictured) of turning a blind eye to his mentor’s predations. Archbishop Scicluna presented the Holy Father with a 2,300-page dossier. After reading the report, Pope Francis summoned the bishops of Chile for an emergency meeting in the Vatican, at the end of which the bishops tendered their resignations en masse.

Since January, revelations have continued to emerge involving clergy and religious, who have been perpetrators (and sometimes victims) of abuse. The number and detail of those revelations has increased, especially since the Barros affair exploded on to the international scene following the Pope’s repeated calumny accusations and denials that he had evidence (which should have been readily available to him, even if it wasn’t).

In its statement announcing the weekend meetings, the Vatican said: “With the help of these five priests, the Pope seeks to remedy the internal rupture of the community. Thus, rebuilding a healthy relationship between the faithful and their shepherds can begin, once all are conscious of their own wounds.” The Vatican, it seems, is anxious to let the healing begin.

After his Saturday meeting with the Pope, Fr de la Fuente said: “I was greatly comforted to be completely understood by an admirably empathetic person, who suffered with my pain, and I have great hope because he has a very ample and profound understanding of the problem.”

If, as Pope Francis said in his letter addressed to the faithful of Chile at the end of May, “[not] knowing how to listen to the victims” was “one of one of our main faults and omissions”, the victims with which he has met since being forced to recognise he had heretofore been “part of the problem” seem to believe he is listening now.

Whether that will be enough to garner him the measure of bona fides he needs with the people of Chile in order to begin to repair the damage and break ground on what must be a generational reform effort – one that faces deeply entrenched opposition – is another matter. So is the forbearance of the faithful worldwide, who are evidently weary of the narrative of proud but well-meaning clerics chastened by exposure and promising to do better: rinse, repeat.

Even in the aforementioned letter to the Chilean faithful, Pope Francis could not bring himself to say on his own and publicly what he is reported to have said to victim Juan Carlos Cruz: “I was part of the problem. I caused this.” The most Pope Francis could muster was, “With shame, I must say that I did not know how to listen and react in time.” That is true, as far as it goes. It tells us nothing new, however.

Nor does it account for too much of what we know: that Pope Francis – however incomplete his picture of the situation in Chile might have been – had more than enough information at his disposal to warrant a closer look, and chose to ignore it, preferring to believe high-ranking clerics over victims.

Even after circumstances forced him to begin taking a closer look, it was not so much the victims Pope Francis believed, as it was the word of the high-ranking cleric he sent to be his eyes and ears. Even now, it is the word of a priest, who promises us that Pope Francis has a plan, that the faithful of Chile and the rest of the world must trust.