On May 18, all the bishops in Chile offered Pope Francis their resignation en masse in response to the clergy sexual-abuse scandal there. It was a highly dramatic gesture and a welcome sign of their willingness to “let go.” Yet it doesn’t solve the thorny and complex problem that led to the resignations. The roots of the scandal go deep.
A good example of this can been seen in the case of Fernando Karadima, the charismatic priest who preyed upon young men in the El Bosque parish for three decades, and who was sentenced by an ecclesiastical court to a life of “prayer and penance” in 2011. He ran what amounted to a religious cult centered on his own personality—one that was wildly successful, producing no less than fifty priests, four of whom became bishops. They called him the “little saint” while he abused them sexually, controlled them psychologically, separated them from their families, and had them spy on one another so that he could control them further. This wasn’t just about sex; it was about power.
Francis gets it. In a statement he made to the Chilean bishops when he met with them in Rome, he said, “We must pay attention to what I allow myself to call ‘elite psychology’...elite or elitist psychology ends up generating dynamics of division, separation, ‘closed circles’ that lead to narcissistic and authoritarian spiritualities.... Messianism, elitism, clericalisms, all are synonymous with perversion in the ecclesial being.”
That perversion remains a tough one to cure. Many of those whom Karadima cultivated stayed loyal to him after he was accused. They not only defended him; they also spread false stories to discredit the whistleblowers. The number of people involved in covering up his crimes alone is staggering. When one adds to this all the other cases, such as the abuse at a school run by the Marist order and scandals associated with the Legionaries of Christ in Chile, one begins to understand why the report of Vatican investigator Archbishop Scicluna was 2,300 pages long. The Chilean bishops have totally lost credibility; it’s not surprising that Chile has the lowest level of church engagement of any Latin American country.
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