Pope Francis’ trip to Chile & Peru Needs To Restore
Trust In The Catholic Church
Extracts from a National Catholic Reporter Article by Vatican correspondent
The pope is preparing to embark on a trip to Chile and Peru that may shift the focus from politics to problems inside the church community. Local observers and prominent expatriate voices say attention during the Jan. 15-21 visit may center on how Francis can help the Chilean church regain trustworthiness after a recent spate of cases of clergy sexual abuse. Complicating that possibility, observers say, is Francis’ own record on the abuse issue, especially his 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, Chile. Barros has been accused of covering up abuse by a prominent priest in the 1980s and ’90s.
Mario Paredes, who has advised both the Vatican and the U.S. bishops on Latin American issues for decades, told National Catholic Reporter that he hoped the pope could help Chile’s hierarchy “restore the credibility that in recent years it has lost. No matter how you look at it, those cases have been horrendous, scandalous, and the church has lost credibility,” said Paredes, a Chile native who is now CEO of Advocate Community Partners, a network of primary care physicians in New York City. “I expect that he will make a strong appeal for a church that is really transparent and truthful.”
But Jesuit Fr. Antonio Delfau, the former longtime editor of the Jesuit ‘Mensaje’ magazine, said the Barros appointment undercuts what Francis might be able to achieve while in the country. “One of the bishops appointed by this pope is a bishop that is questioned not only by the people of the place, but also by most of the other bishops,” said Delfau, now based in Rome as the assistant to the Jesuit curia’s general treasurer. “That’s a big problem.” Barros, who served as the head of Chile’s military diocese until Francis moved him to the small southern city of Osorno in 2015, has been accused of protecting Fr. Fernando Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of prayer and penance in 2011. Though Barros was not implicated in Karadima’s canonical trial, victims say the bishop destroyed incriminating correspondence from the priest. Other victims claim Barros was even a witness to some of the sexual abuse.
Captured on video speaking to a Chilean in the crowd at a May 2015 general audience at the Vatican, the pope said people were judging Barros “without any evidence” and even said the allegations against the bishop were being orchestrated by “lefties.” “Osorno suffers, yes, but for being foolish, because they do not open their hearts to what God says, and instead get carried away by all this silliness,” Francis said. José Andrés Murillo, executive director of ‘Para la Confianza’, a Chilean foundation that helps survivors of sexual abuse, said people in Osorno were “completely shocked” when the video of that encounter was made public by a local news channel in October 2015. “They expected from the pope a reaction of compassion or comprehension,” but instead “received this very aggressive reaction,” Murillo said. “What the people are feeling toward the pope I think is not anger,” he said. “It is sadness. Why can the pope not comprehend the concerns of the people?”
Francis will be visiting Chile Jan. 15-18 before heading on to northern neighbour Peru through Jan. 21. His schedule in both countries follows a familiar format: He will spend his nights in the countries’ respective capitals of Santiago and Lima, but travel to different cities on successive days. As usual, the pope will meet with the nations’ presidents, Michelle Bachelet in Chile and Pedro Kuczynski in Peru; speak to the bishops in each country; and host encounters with young people and priests and religious. Murillo suggested that local attention in Chile may be drawn most to Francis’ Jan. 16 meeting with the country’s bishops and to a possible, but yet unconfirmed, meeting with survivors of sexual abuse. “The most important word I think the bishops should hear from the pope is to listen to the people, listen to normal Catholics,” Murillo said. “The bishops only hear people who say what they want to hear. They don’t accept the crisis that they are suffering. And they think they are not in a crisis.” Asked about a possible meeting with survivors, Murillo responded simply: “This is what Jesus would do.” The pope, he said, should “not only have a meeting with victims … but demonstrate that he is on the same side as the victims and not on the same side as the aggressors.”
Why Survivors Of Sexual Abuse By Priests
Doubt The Commitment Of The Catholic Church
By Brian Mark Hennessy – Comboni Survivor Group
(The ‘Comboni Survivor Group’ are ‘Core Participants’ in the United Kingdom Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse)
The above article raises specific concerns about Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno and thereby poses more wide-sweeping questions about the commitment of the Catholic Church to the challenging issues of child sexual abuse. For some victims it poses additional and worrying questions about the underlying true nature of Pope Francis’ position on that issue also. No one could reasonably doubt the Pope’s abject horror at the thought of the sexual violation of children. However, there has been a creeping suspicion amongst many victims of clerical abuse that this Pope’s early stance on the issue (at the time of and soon after his election) will not be followed through with any meaningful action. The most remembered comments of this Pope are his indictment, ‘There is no place in the Church for Clerics who abuse children!’ and his address on the same issue on the occasion of his visit to the United States, ‘God Weeps!’ Those messages gave hope to the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering was understood and was about to be recognized. It has not worked out quite like that. The misery of their life-long psychological disorientation and their loss of Hope and Faith has not been assuaged – and they no longer look to the Catholic Church for a future that will be brighter.
The appointment and later defence by Pope Francis of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, Chile, is a matter of concern, but there have been other examples of the Pope going back on his promises. Most notably was the lack of follow through on his proposed establishment of a Tribunal to examine Bishops and Religious Superiors who covered up sexual crimes and who had given safe haven to clerics who had committed abuse. He allowed other prelates, including Cardinals, to quietly resign after a filial chat. I cannot recall any Bishops being removed from their thrones, albeit there may have been some of whom I am unaware. There was one Archbishop who was summoned to Rome to be tried at a Tribunal of the Holy Rota for his own contemporary abuse of children – but he died of a heart attack awaiting trial. The predictable conspiracy theories of Borgia-style malevolence have surrounded that incident.
From the standpoint of the Comboni Survivors, the Group is aware of at least 25 seminarians who were sexually abused by Comboni Missionary Order priests and a lay brother at the Stillington and Mirfield seminaries in Yorkshire and the London Elstree seminary between the early 1960’s to the beginning of the 1980’s. Not all the priests accused of abuse in those years have been named publicly by survivors, but their names are known to the Group and their movements to new locations are constantly tracked. One, named Padre Romano Nardo, is held at a secret location to prevent the knowledge of his whereabouts becoming known to the Comboni Survivor Group. Those priests openly accused of abuse have been the subject of credible statements which were provided by a dozen seminarians and other witnesses – some of whom are now ordained clergy. Additional statements were made to the West Yorkshire Police who determined the statements to be both credible and consistent. There are just over 40 such statements in all. The total number of individual sexual assaults on these seminarians has been calculated to have been in the region of 1000, albeit the precise figure will never be known. Admittedly, that is a frighteningly high figure, but as some of those seminarians claim to have been abused almost routinely night after night and week after week during term times over periods as long as two years, it can be understood that the final count will be very significant. Nevertheless, whatever the exact figure may be, each case was an undoubted serious crime in its own right. A document detailing this abuse was collated over a period of two to three years from those witness statements and by interviews. The Comboni Missionary Order’s response to the document and some subsequent civil actions was simple. They said it all happened so long ago that the truth cannot now be determined – if it ever happened at all.
The former Chair of the UK Catholic Safeguarding Commission approached the Order on a number of occasions to ask them to adopt a more conciliatory manner with the Victims, but the Comboni Order would have none of it and refused all dialogue. Ultimately, a copy of the document was taken by hand of Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster to Rome and handed by him in person to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He did so, according to one source, because he considered the Comboni Missionary Order’s response to the matter to be ‘foolish’. That was two years ago – and there has been no response from CDF to date. Why? Well, apparently, there are so many other cases awaiting study at the Vatican that CDF cannot cope. They have been so overwhelmed that they cannot even acknowledge a receipt of the documents sent to them – besides which, the Prefect of CDF, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller once explained, he did not consider it necessary anyway. That was the moment, some readers will recall, when Marie Collins resigned from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. (That Commission has since fallen into a state of temporary abeyance, I should add, and there is yet no sign of it being re-constituted). Moreover, the Pope has intimated himself in the last couple of weeks that the
Vatican lay ‘civil service’ is an immovable log jam of retrenched incompetence (my paraphrase). That inspires me with no confidence that I will receive a response in my natural life span – and so I am taking much exercise, have abandoned red meat and I am drinking no alcohol in an attempt to extend it. It is no secret that I firmly believe that the early natural death of Victims is what the Catholic Church hopes for – if you get my reasoning.
Whilst there is no answer to why there is a delay in the response in CDF responding that I can reasonably provide, there may be other factors affecting that delay. For instance, three consecutive Superior Generals of the Italian Comboni Missionary Order, based in Rome, have now had audiences with this Pope. One of those is currently the Secretary General of the Union Of Superiors General working within the Vatican walls (as does another Bishop belonging to the Comboni Order). I have to ask whether or not these Comboni hierarchs, three of whom have shown varying degrees of hostility to the Victims, have whispered into the ear of this Pope something akin to what they have also published in the UK press: “It all happened so long ago that the truth cannot now be determined – if it ever happened at all”.
Some readers might be surprised that I would even begin to suggest that a Catholic Order would abandon the charitable and caring Gospel message of Christ, but one member of the Comboni Survivor Group has suffered outright public hostility from the Order very recently. The circumstance, much publicized in the Italian press at the time, was the occasion of a visit of a former child Victim of abuse to see his abuser to gain understanding of the reason why he had been selected for the abuse. That Victim believed, hopefully, that his understanding and subsequent forgiveness of the priest concerned would put his own mind at rest. He did indeed meet the priest who apologized for the hurt inflicted on the former 14 year old – and the victim did forgive him in return. A ‘happy ending’ appeared to be the result of this interaction – until the former Victim opened his mail one morning in North Wales and was greeted with a Court Summons from the Criminal Court of Verona in Italy for ‘trespassing, stalking and interfering in the life of the priest’ (who had abused him when he was a young teenager)! The action had been taken, presumably, at the behest of the Comboni’s new Superior General – whose metaphorical finger prints were all over the wording of the summons. Ultimately, the Judge ruled that there was no evidence for any of the charges and dismissed the case. The hostile Comboni Order, suffering a large dose of unwarranted ‘chagrin’, appealed. The astute, wise and most judicious Appeal Judge again dismissed the case as baseless – adding that the Victim was to be commended for forgiving the childhood abuse perpetrated by the priest!
The implication of the Judge’s dismissal of the Appeal was that since the original charges were dismissed as baseless, the subsequent appeal by the Comboni Order was tantamount to making false allegations – and that was, ‘per se’ illegal. Nevertheless, the Victim ended up paying for expensive Court fees for his defence counsel at the two trial cases at Verona Criminal Tribunal. A third trial is now in the offing, but this time it will be the Comboni Order in the dock for making false allegations against the Victim! In due course we will see how that one is adjudicated!
The Comboni Missionary Order has some 1,500 members across the world – working mostly in Africa and South America. Historically, it is known that as far back as the mid 1900s it was the reckless custom of the Comboni Order to send priests, accused of child sexual abuse in Europe, to the mission territories where those priests again had unfettered access to countless minors. One was even placed in charge of the Ugandan Catholic Scout Movement! From observations of the movements of some other of their priests accused of abuse in recent years, that custom appears not to have ceased. Indeed, in the last decade, one attempt of the Order to send to Uganda a priest who had acknowledged that he had sexually abused a child was halted only following an intervention by a member of the Comboni Survivor Group itself.
Regrettably, experience has taught Survivors that the Comboni Missionary Order has learned nothing from the clerical sexual abuse scandal that has been revealed to the world in recent decades. Whilst the Order will be able to produce documents and Codes of Conduct that include child safeguarding policies, their words and actions demonstrate that those policies exist only to demonstrate ‘theoretical’ compliance. Indeed, their last Code of Conduct that I was able to read, clearly stated on multiple occasions that the reputation of the Order must be considered at all times in order to avoid ‘scandal’ – a word that appeared 19 times in the text. It is clear to see that far from any Comboni Order engagement with rectifying past errors relating to the issues of child sexual abuse, the hidden reality is starkly different.
The Comboni Missionaries, being the largest Italian Religious Order and being based in Rome, have a lot of clout around the world and in the Vatican. Victims have no similar avenue of outreach. Their faith in the Vatican’s ability to even acknowledge receipt of a document outlining countless numbers of the most abhorrent crimes committed by humanity was dashed long ago. They have, in their hearts and minds, only the truth and the psychological scars of the abuse that they suffered. Those same Victims have also come to doubt that any of the public words uttered by this Pope, once seen by them as their hopeful Champion, are meaningful or even part of a consistent, church-wide crusade against a dreadful evil that besets not just the Roman Catholic Church, but all humanity. Paradoxically to all expectations, it is the United Nations and the national, civil jurisdictions of the World that are leading the charge against the evil of child sexual abuse – and not any of the dominant world Religions – which have hardly started to play the game of ‘catch up’!