Fourteen priests involved in a sex abuse scandal in Chile — which has rocked Pope Francis’s papacy — were stripped of their priestly duties Tuesday.
“Fourteen priests no longer are allowed to carry out their duties… These priests have taken part in actions that may be civilian crimes as well as within the church,” the bishop’s office in the city of Rancagua said.
Just Friday, 34 Chilean bishops announced their resignation over the child sex abuse scandal.
The striking announcement came after the pontiff summoned the bishops over the scandal.
Several members of the Chilean church hierarchy are accused by victims of ignoring and covering up child abuse by Chilean pedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.
On Thursday evening, Francis promised “changes” to the Chilean church to “restore justice” in a short declaration to the bishops, made public.
But in a confidential 10-page document leaked Friday by Chilean TV channel T13, the Argentine pope goes much further in his indictment of the Chilean Church.
The letter — handed to the bishops at the start of their meetings with Francis — evokes “crimes” and “painful and shameful sexual abuse of minors, abuses of power and conscience by ministers of the Church”.
It qualifies the removal of certain prelates from their roles as necessary but “insufficient,” calling for “the roots” that allowed such abuse within an “elitist and authoritarian” Chilean Church to be examined.
Some analysts note that Chile’s long tradition of having the church not subject to civilian law lent itself to impunity and cover-ups.
The damning letter also outlines findings of an investigation, ordered by Pope Francis, into the abuse allegations.
It says the probe found senior church officials had destroyed proof in cases of sex abuse and that certain members of the clergy who had displayed immoral behavior had been transferred to other dioceses after attempts to “minimize” the gravity of their actions.
Grave accusations “were superficially qualified as improbable,” the letter says, denouncing bishops for their “terrible negligence in protecting children.”
In April 2002, Pope John Paul II summoned 13 American cardinals and bishops to Rome after a huge pedophilia scandal within the clergy.
Following another abuse scandal in Ireland in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also organized a meeting of Irish prelates at the Vatican in February 2010.
Argentine-born Francis said it must not happen again on his watch.
Francis himself has gotten caught up in the tragedies when he defended Chilean bishop Juan Barros — accused of covering up Fernando Karadima’s abuses.
Francis has apologized to the victims, three of whom he recently received at the Vatican, and admitted he had made “grave mistakes” after reading the 2,300-page report on the abuse in Chile.
Since 2000, about 80 Roman Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse.