International News

Chilean Bishops Subpoenaed Over Cover-up Allegations

A woman holds a sign in protest while praying as Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile, celebrates Mass July 25 at the cathedral in Santiago. The Chilean prosecutor’s office has issued a subpoena to Cardinal Ezzati regarding his role in the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse by clergy members. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters) 

By Ines San Martin

ROME (Crux) – Pope Francis’ silence about allegations by his former ambassador to the U.S. that he knew of abuses against seminarians by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is, for some, no more disconcerting than his silence regarding Chile, where three bishops have been subpoenaed by the prosecutor’s office to give testimony about possible abuse cover-ups.

Two of the three bishops are still in charge of their dioceses, despite having presented their resignations to the pope in May. One of them also heads the Chilean bishops’ conference.

The first one to be summoned was Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, scheduled to testify over charges of cover-up in August, but who, after requesting a delay, has now been rescheduled for the first half of October.

The second is Bishop Juan Barros, who recently resigned from Osorno and who was questioned late last week as part of an investigation into abuse allegations against a former Chilean military chaplain. He was summoned by a different prosecutor than the one who called the other two. According to the Chilean newspaper La Tercera, this is a sign of a “holy war” among those investigating the Church’s crimes.

‘Iron Circle’ Protected Abuser

According to victims in Chile, the former bishop of Osorno is one of four bishops who were part of an “iron circle” around pedophile priest Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer after the Vatican found him guilty of not only sexual abuse of minors, but also abuses of power and conscience.

After a decade as a military bishop, then-Bishop Barros was transferred by Pope Francis to Osorno in 2015, causing an uproar among lay faithful and survivor groups. Last June, the pontiff accepted the resignation of the prelate, who was months shy of turning 62. The Vatican gave no explanation as to why his resignation was accepted, though it was widely understood that it was because of the bishop’s role in the Father Karadima scandal.

Chilean Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago is among 19 new cardinals named by Pope Francis Jan. 12. He is pictured in a 2013 file photo. (Photo: Catholic News Service/Eliseo Fernandez, Reuters) 

Every Chilean bishop presented their resignation to the pope in May, after they were summoned by the pontiff to talk about the crisis in the local Church. He has accepted the resignation of five, all of whom have been accused of either a cover-up or of abuse themselves. Yet, no explanation has been given in any case, and it’s unclear if canonical processes have been started.

During a press conference as part of his flight back to Rome from Ireland on Aug. 26, the pope said there are two ongoing trials with ad hoc tribunals in the Vatican, one against the former bishop of Guam and an unknown second one, who could be Chilean or not.

Bishop Barros was questioned in a case involving former chaplain Father Pedro Quiroz, who was part of the military bishops’ office headed by the former bishop between 2004 and 2015.

According to an Aug. 28 statement released by the military bishops’ office, the priest was recently suspended from ministry as a “precautionary” move, over an allegation of abuse dating back to 1997.

As per the statement, the Church began investigating the allegation after the survivor came forward and spoke with a “listening service” set up by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who was in Chile twice this year on Pope Francis’ mandate to look into widespread allegations of abuse and cover-up within the local Church.

The survivor spoke up in July, and in August an ecclesial investigation against Father Quiroz began, leading to his temporary suspension.

The statement also says that in 2000 the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had investigated two allegations against Father Quiroz but the survivors allegedly didn’t testify, making it impossible to “determine responsibility.”

At the end of questioning, the recently resigned Bishop Barros said: “I contributed what I could contribute. I told the prosecutor what I had known or didn’t know.”

A third bishop who’s been summoned by the prosecutor’s office is Bishop Barros’ successor in the military, Bishop Santiago Silva, who also serves as president of the Chilean bishops’ conference. The date for his testimony is being kept under wraps.

Beyond his plausible role in the cover-up for the alleged abuses of Father Quiroz, Bishop Silva is one of three bishops accused of covering up for abuses in the seminary of the diocese of Valparaiso that date to the early 1990s.

In addition to Bishop Silva, survivors have also accused Bishop Francisco Javier Prado, former auxiliary bishop of this diocese who moved on to Rancagua; and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte, who served as bishop of the diocese from 1999 until June 11, 2018, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation. Retired Bishop Duarte has also been accused by former seminarians of abuses of power and conscience with sexual connotations. In recent months, several Chilean dioceses have had their archives raided by the prosecutor’s office, including that of Santiago de Chile, the country’s capital, headed by Cardinal Ezzati, and the archives of the bishops’ conference.

Sources with knowledge of the situation have told The Tablet that the reason Pope Francis is taking so long to replace some of the Chilean bishops, including Cardinal Ezzati, who’s 77 and has presented his resignation twice, is because he’s struggling to find suitable replacements.