VATICAN CITY : The Vatican investigator sent to take testimony from Chilean sex abuse victims said Thursday the Holy See is “making history” with Pope Francis’ emergency summit of the Chilean hierarchy.
The Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, a Spaniard in the Vatican office that handles abuse cases, told reporters he expected “important” measures to be taken to try to repair the Chilean church. “What is sure is that we are facing a very, very particular moment for the universal church, not only for Chile,” he said outside the priests’ residence where the Chilean bishops are staying. “It’s not normal to call here an entire bishops’ conference. Therefore, if I were you, I would expect measures and conclusions that will be important.”
“We are making history,” he added. Francis summoned the Chilean bishops’ conference to Rome for four days of meetings and prayer after admitting that he had made “grave errors in judgment” in the case of a Chilean bishop accused of witnessing and ignoring abuse. The summit recalls similar ones when American bishops in 2002, and then Irish bishops in 2010, were hauled before the popes of the time for a dressing-down over their dismal handling of abuse cases.
Victims of Chile’s most notorious predator priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, had placed Bishop Juan Barros at the scene of their abuse — a charge he has long denied. Francis strongly defended Barros during his January trip to Chile, drawing scorn from Chileans and even his own top sex abuse adviser.
After returning home, Francis sent Bertomeu and the Vatican’s top abuse expert to get to the bottom of the scandal, and they came back with a much broader view of the scale of abuse and cover-up in the church, presenting Francis with a 2,300-page dossier.
For years, sex abuse victims have blasted the Chilean hierarchy for discrediting their claims, protecting abusers, moving them around rather than reporting them to police and then handing out light sentences when church sanctions are imposed.
Francis said last month he would take short-, medium- and long-term measures to try to repair the damage to the Chilean church’s credibility. Asked Thursday if those measures were still in the works, Bertomeu said: “The Pope is a man of his word.”
Many Chileans are expecting that at least Barros and two-other Karadima-trained bishops will resign. At the start of the summit, representatives of the Chilean bishops’ conference said they were prepared to accept whatever measures Francis proposed, including bishop resignations, reforms of Chile’s seminaries and economic reparation for victims.