At the Vatican summit to discuss sex abuse next month, the secretary general of the Chilean Bishops Conference will take the place of the conference president, who is embroiled in the nation’s current sex abuse crisis.
Bishop Fernando Ramos, apostolic administrator of Rancagua and secretary general of the conference, will represent the Chilean bishops at the meeting requested by Pope Francis, which will include the heads of bishops’ conferences from around the world.
The anti-abuse summit will be held at the Vatican on February 21-24. While the presidents of the national bishops’ conferences have been invited, Bishop Santiago Silva will not attend.
Silva, who serves as president of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference, has been subpoenaed on charges of covering up abuse within the Military Diocese, which he has headed since July 2015.
“Given that this is an important meeting called by the Holy Father,” Ramos told the La Tercera newspaper, Silva asked him to attend “in order to avoid shifting the focus to… the person of the president himself.”
Ramos told La Tercera that at the most recent Plenary Assembly of the bishops’ conference in November 2018, Silva said that he was willing to continue as the conference president or to step down.
“At that time, he was asked to continue in his position as president,” Ramos said. “Regarding the invitation that the Holy Father has made to the presidents of the bishops’ conferences of the world, for the February meeting, the president of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference asked me to attend.”
The Church in Chile is still reeling from revelations of a sex abuse scandal following an in-depth investigation by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which resulted in a 2,300-page report on the scandal.
Pope Francis initially dismissed some of the abuse cover up allegations as “calumny,” but later apologized and said he had been misinformed in judging the case, due to “a lack of truthful and balanced information.”
The pope then summoned all the Chilean bishops to Rome in May 2018 for a meeting in which he harshly criticized them for a systematic cover-up of abuse involving not only the destruction of documents, but superficial investigations that led to moving accused abusers to other schools or parishes where they had access to children.
Following that meeting, every bishop in the country submitted their resignation. The pope has accepted several of the resignations and is expected to accept several more in the coming months.
In his interview with La Tercera, published Dec. 29, Bishop Ramos acknowledged that the abuse crisis has contributed to an ongoing decrease in the size of the Chilean Church.
He pointed to a survey finding that Catholics made up 73 percent of the population 20 years ago, but now make up 55 percent. This trend is partly due to “a process of profound transformation of Chilean society where cultural forms of expression of greater individualism and materialism are emerging,” he said.
The bishop added that “the cases of abuse and mishandling that we have had as a Church have accelerated this process of disaffiliation. We must acknowledge our responsibility that we have not responded well to this kind of situation and that has affected Church affiliation.”
Regarding the response to the sex abuse crisis in the country, Ramos argued that the Church in Chile is not “the same Church that it was a year ago.”
“[S]everal bishops have been changed, [and] a very profound process of reflection by our communities has begun, with the aim of our having in 2020 an Ecclesiastical Assembly where a series of pastoral guidelines for the life of the Church can take their final form,” he said.