Chile’s faith in the Catholic Church withers from child sex abuse revelations

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: an extraordinary crisis
for the Catholic Church and test for the pope himself. This week, Pope Francis announced that he
would accept the resignation of three bishops in the South American country of Chile. Two days later, Chilean police made surprise
raids on church offices. It is all part of an ongoing child abuse scandal
that began in 2010 and continues to reverberate across Latin America and beyond. Jeffrey Brown reports from Santiago, Chile. JEFFREY BROWN: Jaime Concha says he was just
10 years old when the abuse began. JAIME CONCHA, Alleges Abuse (through translator):
There are six adults who abused me again, repeatedly and systematically, between the
year 1973 and 1979. It’s as if a pack, a tribe, a group of sexual
predators had attacked me time and time again. And that for me was almost like a murder. I felt they as if they had murdered me. JEFFREY BROWN: At the time, he was a fifth-grader
at this Catholic school in Santiago. It took more than 40 years before Concha was
able to speak publicly about what happened. JAIME CONCHA (through translator): A victim
of sexual abuse doesn’t speak when he wants. He speaks when he can, because our victimizers
silence us. I have been able to heal by seeing that my
suffering became meaningful in the search for justice. JEFFREY BROWN: Other victims are also speaking
out, and, today, nearly 80 Catholic clergy across Chile have been accused of sexually
abusing minors over the last several decades. The child abuse scandal here has grown into
a national crisis, in a country where the church has historically been one of the most
powerful institutions. PAULINA DE ALLENDE-SALAZAR, Investigative
Journalist (through translator): We began with a horrific story that was hard to believe,
and, today, it’s become a cultural problem, a problem about our social structure. JEFFREY BROWN: In 2010, investigative journalist
Paulina de Allende Salazar received a tip that sexual abuse and cover-up had been rampant
within the Chilean church for decades. PAULINA DE ALLENDE-SALAZAR (through translator):
The reaction was hard, especially for the faithful, especially for the ones who blindly
believed in the Catholic Church. JEFFREY BROWN: Her reporting uncovered widespread
abuse by Father Fernando Karadima of Santiago, a widely respected and powerful priest who
many felt would one day be declared a saint by the church. PAULINA DE ALLENDE-SALAZAR (through translator):
Fernando Karadima was the tip of the iceberg that uncovered a system of sexual abuse. He trained bishops under his own structure,
a conservative and rigid one that abused its power. JEFFREY BROWN: Jose Andres Murillo, now 43,
claimed Father Karadima sexually abused him in the 1990s while he trained to become a
priest. He says many Chileans initially refused to
believe the allegations. How were you treated? What were you called? JOSE ANDRES MURILLO, Alleges Abuse (through
translator): We were gays, or enemies of the church, or trying to destroy the morale and
the ethics of our country. It was very, very, very hard. JEFFREY BROWN: In 2011, Father Karadima, then
80, was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing young boys. He was forced to retire and sentenced by the
church to a lifetime of penance and prayer, but he never faced criminal charges because
of Chile’s statute of limitation laws. Public perception, however, has slowly changed,
as more allegations of abuse came to light. And the scandal has clearly had an impact. Today, just 36 percent of Chileans say they
trust the church, and the number who identify as Catholic is down from 61 percent in 2010
to 45 percent last year. PAULINA DE ALLENDE-SALAZAR (through translator):
There is a powerful church that still today doesn’t understand what happened. It doesn’t understand the damage it caused. JEFFREY BROWN: When Pope Francis came to Chile
in January, he clearly hoped to begin to repair the damage. Instead, he was forced to address his own
appointment of Juan Barros as a bishop in 2015, a move that came after Barros had been
accused of witnessing and covering up the sexual abuses committed by Father Karadima. Barros has denied the allegations. Francis initially defended Barros, going so
far as to charge his accusers with slander. POPE FRANCIS, Leader of Catholic Church (through
translator): The investigation of Barros went on, but no evidence came out. For this reason, what I meant is that I can’t
condemn him, because I don’t have evidence, and because I am convinced he is innocent. JEFFREY BROWN: But the pope’s comments drew
outrage in Chile and beyond, spurring him to order a new investigation into the extent
of abuse. Its findings led Francis to issue an extraordinary
apology, citing his own — quote — “serious errors of judgment and perception of the situation.” In May, he summoned all of Chile’s bishops
to Rome and later invited the three original accusers of Father Karadima to come to the
Vatican to ask their forgiveness. JOSE ANDRES MURILLO: Never in my life I would
think I would be invited by the pope to the Vatican to talk to him. That was unthinkable. I thought that I would have, like, 15 or 20
minutes to talk to him. Afterwards, we talked during two hours about
the abuse of power. JEFFREY BROWN: Were you satisfied with what
he told you? JOSE ANDRES MURILLO: I’m satisfied with what
I told him. JEFFREY BROWN: With what you told him? JOSE ANDRES MURILLO: Yes, yes, because that’s
what I can control. JEFFREY BROWN: Soon after, all 34 of Chile’s
bishops offered to resign. At a news conference in late May that we attended,
one of them, Bishop Fernando Ramos, read a letter from the pope that promised the church
would — quote — “never again ignore the cover-up of abuse.” I spoke with Bishop Ramos afterwards. How serious a crisis is this for the Chilean
church? BISHOP FERNANDO RAMOS, Catholic Church (through
translator): I think it’s a very serious crisis. Our relationship with the Chilean society
is being seen through these situations, and not around what our mission is. JEFFREY BROWN: Abuse, cover-up, indifference,
from the church itself, do you accept all of this now? BISHOP FERNANDO RAMOS (through translator):
I can’t say that the whole church is abuse and cover-up. I think that would be unfair. But, nevertheless, there is and there have
been, in the church, situations of abuse and cover-up, which is why we have to work intensely
to overcome it. JEFFREY BROWN: But Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesperson
for a lay Catholic group formed in the wake of the abuse scandal, says more direct action
is required. JUAN CARLOS CLARET, Laicos de Osorno (through
translator): We have to recognize that the Chilean government, in regards to protecting
children, has very weak laws. What concerns us about the bishops’ resignations
is that a resignation en masse may end up dissolving their criminal responsibility. For this reason, we have formally demanded
that, if the pope reveals that there are bishops who have committed crimes, such as the destruction
of evidence, they are turned over to justice. JEFFREY BROWN: Last month, Chile’s President
Sebastian Pinera presented a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on sex crimes. Jamie Concha and other victims have recently
filed criminal complaints against three Catholic priests and other members of the church. JAIME CONCHA (through translator): We want
the criminals to be where they need to be — that’s jail — and there be no impunity. JEFFREY BROWN: On a recent Sunday morning
in Santiago, many pews in this church were empty. But some congregants here said the crisis
could offer a new way forward. MIGUEL ANGEL DIAZ, Chilean Catholic (through
translator): This is a great chance for the pope to give us the church that we really
need at this time. This situation is in no way the end of the
church. ANA MARIA REPIC, Chilean Catholic (through
translator): I pray for the pope, because I hope he acts as he should, with strength. And I think that all of us who are faithful
support him in that sense. JEFFREY BROWN: Eight years after first going
public, Jose Andres Murillo no longer considers himself a Catholic. He now heads a foundation that offers training
to those who work with children, investigates new charges of abuse, and helps victims slowly
recover their lives. JOSE ANDRES MURILLO: Now the meaning of my
life is to fight against the child sexual abuse. And the church is in charge of almost 200
million of children in the world. And I owe them the right to develop their
faith free of abuse. JEFFREY BROWN: This week, the pope announced
he would accept the resignations of Bishop Juan Barros and two other bishops. In response, Jose Andres Murillo told us he
hopes all victims will now feel safe to speak out and will receive justice. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
in Santiago, Chile.

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