Vatican City, Jan 14, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis met for three hours Monday with leaders of the Chilean bishops’ conference, as the bishops face a sexual abuse crisis and plan initiatives to strengthen the Church in the country.
“Together with the pope, we looked back at the events of the last year and looked forward to the upcoming steps. This and the next year will be the year of discernment, while in 2020 we will hold an ecclesial assembly,” said Msgr. Fernando Ramos, general secretary of the Chilean bishops’ conference
The meeting was requested by the conference.
The delegation included Bishop Santiago Silva, military ordinary of Chile and president of the bishops’ conference; Bishop René Rebolledo of La Salinas, vice president of the conference; Ramos; Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago; and Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo.
The official meeting took place in the Apostolic Palace, and lasted one hour. The pope and Chilean bishops then continued their discussion for two hours, having lunch together at the pope’s residence, the Domus Santa Marta.
According to Ramos, it was a “very fraternal, interesting and fruitful meeting,” and the pope gave “important remarks, making several suggestions, showing awareness and preoccupation for the Chilean Church.”
Ramos also said that the pope recalled his years as novice in Chile, and said that those years “helped him a lot in his ministry, first as a Jesuit father and later as a pope.”
Pope Francis’ meeting with top ranks of Chilean bishops’ conference is part of a wide effort put into action a place to face the sexual abuse crisis of the Church in Chile.
On Sep. 28, 2018, it was made public that the pope ordered the laicization of Father Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest convicted in 2011 of sexual abuse of minors.
On Oct. 13, 2018, the Pope made the decision to laicize José Cox Huneeus, archbishop emeritus of La Serena, Chile, member of the Institute of Schoenstatt Fathers, and Marco Antonio Órdenes Fernández, bishop emeritus of Iquique, Chile.
Those drastic decisions were part of a path of reckoning of the sex abuse scandals in Chile.
The crisis scaled up after Pope Francis’ trip to Chile in January, 2018, and prompted Pope Francis to send investigators to look into allegations of widespread abuse and cover-up. Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna was sent twice in Chile to collect data and information aimed at helping the pope to tackle the issue.
The most prominent case was that of Fernando Karadima, an elderly Chilean priest who in 2011 was found guilty of abuse, but was not formally laicized.
Karadima’s dismissal from the clerical state came after Pope Francis had defended Bishop Juan Barros, a member of Karadima’s inner circle whom Pope Francis had appointed a bishop in Osorno, the diocese where Karadima operated.
According to victims, Barros had covered up Karadima’s abuse.
The pope made a statement defending Barros during his trip to Chile. Then Francis backtracked, sending Scicluna to Chile to investigate and eventually admitting “grave errors” in tackling the sex abuse crisis.
Since then, the pope undertook a series of steps to confront with the crisis: he met in the Vatican with several Karadima’s victims, then held May 15–17, 2018 a crisis meeting with bishops of Chile and, as a result of that meeting, he received the resignation of all the bishops gathered.
Until now, Pope Francis has accepted seven letters of resignation, and among those is that of Barros.
Chilean bishops are taking steps, too. At the end of the second mission of Scicluna in May 2018, the bishops’ conference announced that five lay people, experts of the Council for the Prevention of the Abuse, would be entrusted with collecting allegations of abuse.