World

Chilean bishops open to resignations, reparations for clergy abuse

Jaime Concha, in La Merced Catholic Church, in Santiago, Chile, said he was raped by a priest as a 12-year-old.
Esteban Felix/Associated Press
Jaime Concha, in La Merced Catholic Church, in Santiago, Chile, said he was raped by a priest as a 12-year-old.

VATICAN CITY — Chile’s Catholic bishops said Monday they were open to whatever Pope Francis proposes to overhaul the Chilean church, including the removal of bishops, reforms of seminaries, and paying financial reparation to victims of a clergy sex abuse and coverup scandal.

Representatives of the Chilean bishops conference told reporters they were heading into three days of meetings with Francis humbled, pained, and shamed for their own errors in handling abuse cases.

They said they wanted to listen to Francis and would follow his lead in asking forgiveness of the victims they had discredited.

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A conference spokesman, Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez, said ‘‘it’s possible’’ some bishops would offer to resign, but that it was up to the pope. ‘‘We'll respect what he says. If he asks, we'll do it,’’ he said.

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Francis summoned the bishops to Rome for an emergency summit after receiving a 2,300-page report on the abuse coverup scandal, which he helped fuel.

During a visit to Chile in January, Francis strongly defended a bishop, Juan Barros, who was accused by victims of Chile’s most notorious predator priest of having witnessed and ignored their abuse.

Francis admitted he made ‘‘grave errors of judgement’’ in the case and blamed a ‘‘lack of truthful and balanced information’’ for his missteps.

Chile’s bishops have insisted they provided Francis with correct information, and they declined Monday to go into detail about who knew what and when.

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Gonzalez, the conference spokesman, was among Barros’s strong defenders. He said as recently as January that the accusations against Barros were politically motivated and devoid of proof.

On Monday, Gonzalez said he stood by Barros because his ‘‘brother felt hurt, alone, a bit abandoned,’’ and that any good Catholic would have done the same.

Victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima have described the pain and anguish they felt over the support afforded Barros, whom they placed at the scene of their abuse.

Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops are widely expected to resign. But the scandal has tainted other bishops, including one of Francis’ top advisers, the retired archbishop of Santiago.

Gonzalez and the secretary general of the conference, Bishop Fernando Ramos, said it was clear that changes were necessary in the Chilean church. They said the seminary training Chilean priests receive needs to include courses on child protection.

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They also didn’t rule out financial reparations for victims. Karadima’s main victims were publicly humiliated by Santiago’s church leaders after they sued the archdiocese for the alleged coverup. After a court ruled against them, the victims are appealing.

In a separate development, an Australian court is to decide Wednesday whether two planned trials for Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be accused of sexual abuse, will be conducted in secret with the public barred from knowing what took place until the proceedings are over.

On Friday, prosecutors in the state of Victoria applied for a “super injunction” against news coverage of the separate trials. Legal analysts described the application as an extreme move aimed at keeping juries in both cases from learning anything that might cause bias.

But a trial held behind closed doors would also limit accountability for the judge, jury, and lawyers in the case.

Similar restrictions have already kept private the details and number of charges Pell faces, but the proposed injunction would prohibit “any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding.”

The injunction, if approved, would apply to “all states and territories of Australia and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia.”

Pell is the highest ranking Catholic official to be charged with sexual abuse. He was a major figure in the Vatican for years, and served as the pope’s finance chief, the third-highest-ranking official in the church.