Pope de­frocks two Chilean bish­ops ac­cused of sex abuse

Texarkana Gazette - - NATION/WORLD - By Ni­cole Win­field and Colleen Barry

VAT­I­CAN CITY—Pope Fran­cis on Sat­ur­day de­frocked two more Chilean bish­ops ac­cused of sex­u­ally abus­ing mi­nors, and to show greater trans­parency about how he's re­spond­ing to the church's global sex abuse cri­sis, he pub­licly ex­plained why they were re­moved.

The Vat­i­can's un­usu­ally de­tailed state­ment an­nounc­ing the lai­ciza­tion of re­tired Arch­bishop Fran­cisco Jose Cox Huneeus and re­tired Bishop Marco An­to­nio Or­denes Fer­nan­dez sig­naled a new de­gree of trans­parency fol­low­ing past mis­steps by Fran­cis that showed he had grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the grav­ity of the abuse scan­dal.

The state­ment said the two were de­frocked for abus­ing mi­nors with ev­i­dence so over­whelm­ing that a canon­i­cal trial was un­nec­es­sary. The Vat­i­can said the de­ci­sion can­not be ap­pealed.

Cox, 87 and suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia, is a mem­ber of the Schoen­statt re­li­gious or­der and had served as a bishop in Chillan, Chile be­fore be­com­ing the No. 2 of­fi­cial at the Vat­i­can's Pon­tif­i­cal Coun­cil for the Fam­ily, a high-pro­file po­si­tion dur­ing St. John Paul II's pa­pacy.

He re­turned to Chile and be­came bishop in La Ser­ena un­til he left in 1997 un­der un­clear cir­cum­stances, but took on ad­min­is­tra­tive jobs in Rome and at the Latin Amer­i­can bish­ops' con­fer­ence in Colom­bia.

In 2002, the Vat­i­can of­fice for bish­ops asked the Schoen­statt Fa­thers to take him in one of its houses, ap­par­ently be­cause of abuse al­le­ga­tions. He has been liv­ing in Ger­many since then but last year a new, for­mal ac­cu­sa­tion was re­ceived by the Vat­i­can about an al­leged case of abuse that hap­pened in Ger­many in 2004.

The Schoen­statt Fa­thers said Sat­ur­day the Vat­i­can had asked that Cox re­main in their cus­tody. The or­der said it would co­op­er­ate with the jus­tice sys­tem, given that vic­tims in Chile have made crim­i­nal com­plaints against him.

"We re­ceive this news with much shame for the dam­age caused to the vic­tims," the com­mu­nity said. "We show sol­i­dar­ity with them and their pro­found suf­fer­ing. To­day more than ever, we de­plore ev­ery act of abuse that of­fends the dig­nity of peo­ple."

Given the fa­vor that Cox en­joyed by John Paul's in­ner cir­cle, his fall is yet an­other stain on John Paul's legacy. It also calls into ques­tion the se­nior Schoen­statt car­di­nal in Chile, Car­di­nal Javier Er­razuriz, an ad­viser to Fran­cis who has long been ac­cused of cov­er­ing up for abusers.

Or­denes Fer­nan­dez, 53, for his part, was made bishop of Iquique, in north­ern Chile, in 2006 at the young age of 42. He re­tired six years later al­legedly for health rea­sons. But sub­se­quently al­le­ga­tions of abuse were lev­eled against him.

Pre­vi­ously, the Vat­i­can has rarely, if ever, an­nounced lai­ciza­tions of in­di­vid­ual priests and only is­sued a sin­gle-line state­ment if a bishop had re­signed, with­out fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion.

Be­fore Fran­cis' pa­pacy be­gan in 2013, it was Vat­i­can prac­tice to re­veal if res­ig­na­tions were re­tire­ments due to age, or for some other 'grave' rea­son that made them un­fit for of­fice. But Fran­cis early on re­moved even that min­i­mum amount of in­for­ma­tion.

Ad­vo­cates for abuse sur­vivors have long com­plained about the Vat­i­can's se­crecy in han­dling such abuse cases, and the lack of trans­parency when it ar­rived at judg­ments.

Vat­i­can spokesman Greg Burke said Sat­ur­day's more de­tailed state­ment sug­gested a new trend in the way the Vat­i­can will an­nounce the re­sults of in­ves­ti­ga­tions of bish­ops ac­cused of abuse. A sim­i­larly de­tailed state­ment was is­sued when Fran­cis de­frocked Chile's most no­to­ri­ous abuser, the Rev. Fer­nando Karadima, sev­eral weeks ago.

Fran­cis has been un­der fire for his han­dling of abuse cases for years, but the is­sue now is threat­en­ing his cred­i­bil­ity and his legacy. The church's abuse scan­dal has ex­ploded anew in the U.S., Chile, Ger­many and else­where, and de­ci­sions made early in Fran­cis' pa­pacy made it ap­pear that he did not grasp the grav­ity of the trauma done to abuse vic­tims.

In May, all ac­tive bish­ops in Chile of­fered to re­sign over their col­lec­tive mis­han­dling of the abuse scan­dal. So far, Fran­cis has ac­cepted the res­ig­na­tions of seven.

Fran­cis dis­cussed the is­sue dur­ing his Vat­i­can au­di­ence Sat­ur­day with Chilean Pres­i­dent Se­bas­tian Pin­era Echenique, who also met with the Vat­i­can sec­re­tary of state, Car­di­nal Pi­etro Parolin.

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