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Pope expels two Chilean bishops from priesthood

Chile's President Sebastián Piñera meets Pope Francis (Getty Images)

In an unprecedented move, Pope Francis removed two Chilean bishops accused of sexual abuse from the priesthood.

In a statement released on Friday, the Vatican said 84-year-old Francisco José Cox, the former Archbishop of La Serena, and 53-year-old Marco Antonio Órdenes, the former Bishop of Iquique, were dismissed from the clerical state by the Pope and there would be no appeal.

The Vatican cited norms issued by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI regarding serious crimes committed by members of the clergy; the norms state that the most serious cases are decided by the Pope “when it is manifestly evident that the delict was committed and after having given the guilty party the possibility of defending himself.”

“The decision adopted by the Pope on Thursday, October 11, 2018, is not subject to appeal,” the Vatican said.

Just before the announcement was made, the Pope met Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and discussed the sexual abuse scandal affecting the Catholic Church in the country.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Piñera said he and the Pope “shared the hope that the Church may experience a renaissance and recuperate the affection, the closeness of the people of God and can continue playing the important role that the Church plays in our country.”

The expulsion of the former bishops comes two weeks after Pope Francis also expelled from the priesthood Fernando Karadima, a former Chilean priest who gained notoriety for sexually abusing young men in his parish.

Reacting to the announcement about the two bishops, survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima, hailed the Pope’s decision, tweeting that now “there are two pedophile bishops less” in the Church.

“It is a good day for the survivors of these monsters. Now it is time for the Chilean courts to do something!” Cruz tweeted.

Schonstatt Father Fernando Baeza, the order’s provincial superior in Santiago, Chile, said earlier this month that the Vatican was investigating Cox after an accusation of abuse that occurred in Germany in 2004 was reported in 2017.

Ordained a bishop in 1971, Cox led the Diocese of Chillán, Chile, for six years before he was appointed in 1981 by St John Paul II as secretary of the former Pontifical Council for the Family.

In 1985, he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of La Serena. Two years later, he led the organising committee for St John Paul’s visit to Chile.

He became Archbishop of La Serena in 1990, and two years later Fr Manuel Hervia, a diocesan priest, made a formal complaint to the Chilean bishops’ conference, claiming he discovered Archbishop Cox engaged in sexual relations with a young man.

Following an investigation by the apostolic nunciature in Chile, Cox announced his resignation on April 16, 1997, at the age of 63.

Despite the serious nature of the allegations against him, Cox continued to play an active role in the Church. He was appointed in 1999 as president of the national commission overseeing the Jubilee Year celebrations and in March 2001 was part of the delegation representing the Chilean bishops at the Latin American bishops’ council, or CELAM, meeting in Colombia.

On the eve of the publication of an expose on Cox’s behavior in 2002, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Santiago, a longtime friend of Cox, said that “there were always rumors due to his distinct form of affection that was common among us. It was excessively expressive and that led to rumors by many people looking for a meaning behind it.”

Despite referring to the allegations against Archbishop Cox as “rumors,” Cardinal Errázuriz released a statement several days later asking forgiveness for those hurt by the retired archbishop’s actions.

The cardinal also cited Cox’s words to the faithful of his former diocese, “I ask forgiveness for this dark side within me and which is against the Gospel.”

In 2012, after being diagnosed with cancer, Cox was transferred to Vallendar, Germany where the Schonstatt movement’s headquarters is located. He still resides there and is reportedly suffering from dementia.

The Vatican said Cox will “continue to be a part of the Institute of the Schonstatt Fathers.”

Former Bishop Órdenes was appointed to lead the Diocese of Iquique in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI, making him the youngest bishop in Chile at the time.

Nearly six years later, Bishop Órdenes became the subject of an investigation by the apostolic nunciature in Chile after an accusation of sexual abuse was made against him in April 2012.

Rodrigo Pino later announced publicly that he was the person who had reported the abuse by Órdenes; Pino alleged the abuse occurred in 1997 when was 15 years old.

Pino claimed it turned into a romantic relationship and that he reported his accusation to authorities in 2008 and then to the nunciature in 2012 after he learned that another minor had made an accusation of abuse against Órdenes in 2009.

Prosecutors in Iquique confirmed on October 2, 2012, that the accusation was made but was closed due to lack of evidence.

Pino also produced a recording of a conversation he allegedly had with Órdenes, confronting him about the alleged abuse of the second victim.

In the recording, a voice attributed to Órdenes told Pino, “I experienced affection with you, I felt I was loving you,” while the relationship with the other minor “was just an arousal.”

In an interview in 2012 with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, then-Bishop Órdenes acknowledged “having had an imprudent act with him, of which I repent and I asked for forgiveness in that moment.”

“It was an isolated situation,” he said. “But I did maintain with him an affectionate bond, of care, of trying to help him in many difficult personal situations which I should not speak about because they are his (situations).”

However, Órdenes claimed that it “wasn’t with a minor,” saying Pino was 17 years old at the time of the alleged abuse.

Three days after his interview, his resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict.

The charges against him were dismissed in Chile and an appeals court upheld the decision in 2018, stating that it was not possible to “verify the events reported in December 2008.”

The Vatican said that both former bishops were notified of the Pope’s decision by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith through “their respective superiors in their respective residences.