World News

Pope Expels 2 Retired Chilean Bishops Over Abuse

Posted October 13, 2018 1:18 p.m. EDT

ROME — Pope Francis on Saturday expelled from the priesthood two retired Chilean bishops accused of abusing minors, and made it clear they had no possibility of appeal.

“The decision was adopted by the pope last Thursday, Oct. 11,” the Vatican said in a statement, “as a consequence of overt acts of abuse against minors.” The decision “does not allow for recourse,” the statement added.

One of the bishops, Francisco Cox, 84, is the archbishop emeritus of the city of La Serena and is in poor health. He has a record of sexually abusing children dating to before his arrival as the bishop of the Chilean diocese of Chillan in 1974. The other is Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez, 53, and he has not been seen publicly for years.

The pope’s sentence, the harshest available in church canon law, comes amid a sprawling sexual abuse scandal and growing doubts about whether Francis will hold bishops accountable for covering up abuse.

It was handed down a day after the pope reluctantly accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, one of the most powerful men in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. But in that case, Francis praised Wuerl as putting the good of the church before himself, kept him on as a caretaker until his replacement was selected and let him keep his influential Vatican offices.

The accusations against Wuerl, until recently considered one of the church’s strongest advocates for the abused, were linked to his time as the bishop of Pittsburgh and were included in a Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented widespread abuse over decades. The allegations, which Wuerl has disputed, had to do with his suspected mismanagement of abusive priests.

The Chilean bishops defrocked on Saturday were accused of sexual abuse, and their punishments were announced by the Vatican soon after the pope discussed the problem of clerical sexual abuse in Chile with President Sebastián Piñera.

The two bishops had been under a cloud of suspicion for years. Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean abuse survivor who has discussed his ordeal personally with Francis, said on Twitter in Spanish that their defrocking was “a wonderful day for survivors of these monsters."

Cox had been living since 2002 at the institute of the Schönstatt Fathers in Santiago, Chile, at the request of the Vatican. In a statement released Oct. 6, the Rev. Fernando Baeza, the institute’s provincial superior, said another allegation of abuse in 2004 in Germany was reported against Cox in 2017 and prompted a Vatican investigation.

The Vatican statement indicated that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church office often charged with investigating church crimes, had alerted both men of their sentences through the superiors of the religious institutions where they reside. It added that while Cox was no longer a priest, he remained a part of the institute.

The other laicized priest, Fernandez, was 42 when he became bishop of Iquique. He retired in 2012 at 47, citing health problems linked to hepatitis.

It later emerged, however, that Fernandez, who has not been seen in public since 2013 and is believed to be living a life of penitence and prayer in Peru, was under church and civil investigations for sexual abuse.

In September, Francis defrocked the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the 88-year-old Chilean priest whose abuse of teenage boys is central to an abuse scandal in which some of Karadima’s followers who have gone on to become powerful bishops are accused of witnessing and covering up his abuse.

Francis prompted a backlash among abuse survivors and their advocates this year when he defended those bishops from what he called the “calumny” of accusations from victims of sexual abuse. Amid growing pressure, he dispatched his top sex crimes investigator to look into the situation in Chile, resulting in a damning 2,300-page report alleging malpractice and cover-ups.

In the following weeks and months, Francis reversed himself and angrily suggested that he had been misled. All 34 of the country’s bishops offered their resignations en masse during an emergency meeting with the pope in May, in which they discussed the suspected cover-up.

In September, Francis accepted the sixth and seventh of those resignations.