May 18, 2018 / 3:47 AM / 9 days ago

As Vatican meeting on Chilean abuse ends, fate of bishops uncertain

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A crisis meeting between Pope Francis and Chilean bishops about the cover-up of sexual abuse in the country ended on Thursday amid growing speculation among clergy and media that some of them would resign.

Pope Francis poses with Chilean bishops after a meeting at the Vatican, May 17, 2018. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS

In a letter the Vatican said the pope handed to each of the 34 bishops at the end of four days of meetings, Francis said the discussions were “frank” and they had discussed “painful events regarding abuses - of minors, of power and of conscience”.

He said the bishops had agreed to short, medium and long-term changes in order to restore justice and Church unity, but did not elaborate. The meeting ended with “the firm intention to repair the damage done,” the pope said.

One of the bishops is holding a news conference on Friday and there has been growing speculation that he, or the Vatican, could announce the resignation of one or more of the bishops most tainted by the scandal that has shaken the country.

The key bishop in the crisis is Juan Barros, whom the pope appointed to the southern city of Osorno in 2015 despite allegations that he had covered up sexual abuse of minors by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. Barros has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

A Vatican spokesman said he could not confirm a report by Argentina’s Clarin newspaper that Barros and several other bishops had offered the pope their resignations.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of the city of San Bernardo said at the start of the meetings he could not rule out some of the tainted bishops resigning or being sacked, as many Chileans have demanded.

“It does not depend on us. Each person must decide this together with the pope,” he said.

During his trip to Chile in January, Francis said he had no proof against Barros, believed he was innocent, and that accusations against him were “slander” until proven otherwise.

But days after returning to Rome, the pope, citing new information, sent sexual abuse investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to Chile to speak to victims, witnesses and other Church members. He produced a 2,300-page report that was discussed at the Vatican meetings.

Speculation that measures could be announced soon were further fuelled on Thursday when Father Jordi Bertomeu, the Spanish priest who assisted Scicluna in the investigation, told reporters in Rome to “expect some measures”.

Victims have also accused other bishops of either covering up the abuse by Karadima, of delaying investigations, or of discrediting them in the media and demonising them in private conversations and emails.

Last month, Francis held four days of meetings with Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, three men abused by Karadima when they were teenagers in Santiago.

Karadima, who trained four of the bishops for the priesthood decades ago, was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s.

He never faced civilian justice because of the statute of limitations. Now 87 and living in a nursing home in Chile, Karadima has always denied the allegations.

Additional reporting Aislinn Laing in Santiago; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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