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Pope Francis and Catholic Church shamed after Chile gets tough against child sexual abuse scandal

Police and prosecutors have been raiding the offices of the Catholic Church in the South American nation of Chile. According to a report by Reuters, beginning since mid-June, there have been six raids on the offices belonging to the Catholic Church. Authorities have reportedly seized documents, files, computers, laptops and tablets belonging to Church officials and the Vatican.

The raids are a part of ongoing investigations into the allegations of rampant child sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests. The raids have been surprised sweeps, ordered by Chilean prosecutor Emiliano Arias. The actions on the Catholic Church offices in Chile is being regarded as one of the most aggressive ones ever undertaken by a judicial authority against the Roman Catholic Church.

The allegations of child sexual abuse in the current investigations date back to as far as 2007. The Chilean authorities are not only attempting to arrest and prosecute the priests who committed the crimes, they are also looking for the involvement of the Church in hushing up and allowing the crimes to continue. In an interview to Reuters, Arias has informed that the documents seized contain details of as many as 30 different cases of child sexual abuse, which were reported to the church but the church did not report it to the authorities and kept the allegations hushed up. Arias also states that the Church had even attempted to destroy the documents but the raiding authorities manage to salvage them.

Oscar Munoz, the top aide of Chile’s Archbishop Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, has been arrested for sexual crimes against children. The prosecutors reportedly believe that Cardinal Ezzati had knowledge of his aide’s crime but he chose not to report.

In an astounding revelation, the prosecutors state that they had to take the extreme step of raids because the Catholic Church authorities refused to divulge the information about abusive priests, claiming that the details of sexual crimes and criminal priests involved in it are protected under the Vatican law as ‘Pontifical secrets. Investigators worldwide have reportedly claimed that the Canon law of ‘Pontifical Secrets’ is often used by the Roman Catholic Church to shield their priests who are accused of severe crimes. What is more, the Archbishop’s office in Santiago had reportedly even admitted that they were asked to cite this ‘Pontifical Secret’ excuse to the authorities by the Vatican itself.

In Chile, the allegations of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests have long been reported. Things took a significant turn when Pope Francis appointed Bishop Juan Barros as the Bishop of Osorno in 2015. Barros was accused of shielding and protecting Reverend Fernando Karadima, who was Chile’s most notorious paedophile priest. Unfortunately, Karadima was not only powerful and politically connected, but the laws under the statute of limitations ensured that Karadima was never prosecuted and punished for his crimes. The Vatican, after Karadima’s abuse victims finally went public, made a token gesture of removing Karadima from official posts and ‘sanctioned’ him to a life of penitence and prayers’.

Pope Francis’ visit to Chile in January 2018 had seen widespread protests and incidents of church burning by an angry public. As many as nine different churches were reportedly firebombed by an angry mob in protest of the Catholic Church’s defensive attitude towards abusive priests.

Facing wide backlash and criticism, Pope Francis was in a way forced to express apologies for the incidents of child sexual abuse. While he had initially defended Barros and termed the allegations against him as ‘slander’, he later expressed his apologies and sent two Vatican convoys to meet and take statements from abuse victims. The convoys, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr Jordi Bertomeu then prepared a 2300 page report that reportedly confirmed the elaborate cover-up by church officials whenever crimes against children by priests were reported.

Acting on the report, Pope Francis reportedly summoned all 34 of Chile’s bishops to Rome in May this year. While all of them had reportedly offered to step down from their posts, the pope has so far approved 5 resignations.

According to reports, in Chile alone, about 80 Roman Catholic Priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the past 18 years. Recent reports stated that so far, the authorities have investigated 158 Catholic Priests, officials and workers on allegations of sexual abuse. The number of victims is said to be in hundreds.

Sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the Church’s blatant attempts to not only cover up the crimes but elaborate attempts to aid, protect and defend the criminal priests is something that has shamed the Roman Catholic Church multiple times. There have been numerous incidents worldwide where the church has been found to protecting its abusive priests. Recently in Massachusetts, the church was ordered to pay 1 million USD to victims of abuse in the 70s and 80s. The details of the case, which were made into an Oscar-winning movie ‘Spotlight’ were such that the abusive priests were not only allowed to continue their abuse, but a powerful legal and official lobby successfully protected them by deceiving and cheating the victims.

In India too, many cases of sexual abuse by church priests have been brought to light. Recently in Jharkhand, nuns of the Missionaries of Charity were arrested on charges of child trafficking and baby selling. It is also unfortunate that despite such rampant cultures of abuse and crimes being prevalent in the church, the church often finds it necessary to use Indians for its own political agendas with impunity. Child sexual abuse is a blot on humanity. It is time that the Catholic Church takes steps to purge itself of its own sins before ‘pontificating’ to the world as to which politicians to vote for and which medical decisions to make.

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Sanghamitra
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