Pope takes tough stance on sex abuse
2 Chilean bishops out
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis yesterday 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 yesterday 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 age 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.