Clerical abuse arose from misuse of authority, Chilean priest says

By Elise Harris

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One of the Chilean priests affected by the abuses of Fr. Fernando Karadima who will meet with Pope Francis in June said Wednesday that such abuses stemmed from misuse of authority.
Fr. Francisco Astaburuaga Ossa accompanied one of Karadima's victims, Juan Carlos Cruz, for nearly 20 years before Cruz went public with his suffering.

He is among the group of nine people who will visit Pope Francis June 1-3, and was one of three priests who spoke at a May 23 press conference in Santiago.

Astaburuaga said it is clear that Karadima's abuses, particularly the abuse of conscience, “started from a poor use of authority … he violated personal freedom, he restricted [his victims] and conditioned them.”

“This is the mark of an abuse,” he said, explaining that this, as well as the structural problems which allowed the crisis to happen in the first place, is something that will likely come up in their discussions with the pope.

Astaburuaga was joined at the Vatican press conference by  Fr. Alejandro Vial Amunátegui and  Fr. Eugenio de la Fuente Lora.

Six other people will also be present at the June meeting with Francis; all of them are either victims of Karadima's abuse of power, conscience, or sexuality, or have helped to accompany the victims. Two of the other priests who will meet with the pope are Fr. Javier Barros Bascuñán and Fr. Sergio Cobo Montalba; the remaining four participants have chosen not to go public.

The meeting is part of an effort to respond to Chile's clerical sex abuse crisis, and follows an similar encounter at the Vatican in April among three more of Karadima's victims: Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and Andres Murillo.

“There was a problem, a crisis in the Chilean Church, everyone can see it,” de la Fuente said, explaining that in his view, the process Pope Francis has begun with these meetings “is a very lucid one and we are thankful.”

The three priests said the Roman Pontiff is moving in the right direction, and that their upcoming visit is a sign of hope and a chance to begin repairing the harm done to the Church in Chile. They also noted their joy at the consolation of receiving an invitation from the pope.

The meeting will take place in a “spirit of collaboration” aimed at repairing “the damages done” to the Church in the scandal, Vial said.

Fr. de la Fuente commented that “The meeting itself gives a marvelous [opportunity] to share our personal experience with [Pope Francis], and from this lived experience … to propose solutions to solve this big problem,” of abuse and cover-up, which is largely a problem of power and the misuse of authority.

In a statement signed by Astaburuaga, Vial, de la Fuente, Barros, and Cobo, the priests voiced hope that their stories “can help give a voice to many others who have suffered abuse or who have accompanied people who have been abused.”

After presenting the statement, the priests noted the delicacy of the situation, and that the pope invited them so he could listen to them and give them a chance to share their personal experiences.

Fr. de la Fuente said the pope was clear in his original letter apologizing for having misjudged the situation, saying that the process of re-building the Church in Chile must happen “in short, medium and long term” phases.

Speaking of Cruz, Hamilton, and Murillo, Fr. de la Fuente voiced gratitude for “their testimonies, their courage and their friendship. They have helped the Church a lot.”

The solutions outlining a path forward for the Church in Chile have yet to be decided, he said, explaining that this is something they will discuss with Pope Francis.

Fr. Vial said that while they want to give a voice to victims of abuse, “each case of abuse is different. I could never pretend to represent someone who was abused in a different way and in a different context.”

One of the main goals of their meeting with the pope, he said, is to discuss how to “do as much as possible to avoid the existence of victims of abuse. For us it is very important to collaborate so that there are no more victims of abuse.”

In his comments, de la Fuente stressed that while abuse and pedophilia are problems not exclusive to the Church, they are more serious when they happen in an ecclesial environment “because it is a place of life called to give life and fullness.”

“There is a structure that creates this type of abuse,” he said, explaining that the Church “must be a house of healing.”

The goal is “to try to work at something so that the Church is what Jesus wanted it to be.”

Likewise, Vial stressed the need for pastors to be close to their flocks, and asked the press to be respectful of the communities most impacted by the crisis, “because they are communities, like the whole Church, which are going through a difficult time with a lot of suffering.”

The priests said that given the desire to maintain privacy and confidentiality, they do not plan to make any other public statements until after they return to Chile following their meeting with Pope Francis.

The Holy See press office had announced the group's meeting with Francis May 22. The encounter was scheduled a month ago, and it was said that the pope “wants to demonstrate his closeness to abused priests, to accompany them in their pain and to listen to their valuable views to improve the current preventive measures and the fight against abuses in the Church.”

The nine Chileans will stay at the Vatican's Santa Marta guesthouse. Pope Francis will say Mass for the group June 2, after which there will be a group meeting, followed by private conversations with the pope.

Karadima was convicted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011 of abusing minors, and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. He has not been sentenced by civil courts because of Chile's statue of limitations.

A sacerdotal association which Karadima had led, the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart, was suppressed within a year of his conviction.

Attention to Karadima's abuse has heightened since the 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid to the Diocese of Osorno. Barros had been accused of covering up Karadima's abuses.

Pope Francis initially defended Barros, saying he had received no evidence of the bishop's guilt, and called accusations against him “calumny” during a trip to Chile in January. He later relented, and sent Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to investigate the situation in Chile.

After receiving Scicluna's report, Francis apologized, said that he had been seriously mistaken, and asked to meet the country's bishops and more outspoken survivors in person.

He met with Chile's bishops May 15-17. As a result, each of them tendered letters of resignation, which Pope Francis has yet to accept or reject. The pope also gave the bishops a letter chastising them for systemic cover-up of clerical abuse and calling them to institute deep changes.

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