On August 3, after the Chilean bishops held an extraordinary assembly to address the clergy sex abuse crisis, they announced the appointment of Ana María Celis Brunet as president of the National Council for the Prevention of Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims. They also decreed the establishment of an abuse-prevention department that will have broad new powers to implement guidelines generated by the council, and appointed Pilar Ramírez Rodríguez as its executive director. This means that leadership for both “law” and “order” on this front in Chile will now rest in the hands of women.
Celis and Ramírez come to their positions with strong backgrounds. Celis is director of the center for law and religion at the University of Chile, where she teaches, and she has reportedly been a steady support to abuse survivors. She holds a degree in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome. She has served on the National Council before, but now she will preside over it, replacing Bishop Juan Ignacio González of San Bernardo. Bishop González is not a hard act to follow. Abuse survivors derided him as a liar because he claimed to have listened to their stories yet had never actually met with them. But quite aside from failures of the president she will replace, Celis is a strong choice.
Ramírez holds a degree in the social doctrine of the church, and a diploma in Intervention in Sexual Abuse and Family Intervention. She has served on a number of pastoral commissions for children at risk, both in Chile and for the organization of all conferences of bishops in Latin America (CELAM). When Vatican investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr. Jordi Bertameu were unable to hear the testimony of all the survivors during the period they were in Chile, Scicluna deputed her to lead a team of five people (three women and two men) to complete the job they began. In her new position she will oversee the work of receiving complaints and monitoring the progress of cases, and her department will oversee the formation of pastoral agents for prevention of abuse.
There are always some who will take a cynical view and dismiss these appointments as window-dressing for Catholic institutions where power still rests in the hands of the ordained, who are all men. Yet one has to start somewhere, if the situation is ever to change.