VATICAN CITY – Another group of Chilean church sex abuse victims is making its voice heard as the country’s Catholic leadership meets with Pope Francis, demanding that the Vatican recognize crimes, cover-ups and the need for reparation.
A statement from six named victims of the Marist Brothers religious community - and other unnamed survivors of Marist assaults - was issued Wednesday on the second day of the emergency summit Francis convened with 34 Chilean bishops.
The scandal within the Marists, who operate schools in 79 countries, exploded in August when the community in Chile revealed that at least 14 minors had been abused by a brother. Another brother abused at least five more.
In their statement, the victims said the Marists were still covering up the crimes, and attacking the credibility of survivors. They vowed to speak out so that parents with children in Marist schools would know what happened to them.
“We insist that the Vatican modify its discourse and rather than talk about pain, forgiveness and sin, it must urgently recognize crimes, misdeeds and reparation, and put all the information it has in the hands of the civilian justice system,” they said.
In a statement to The Associated Press late Wednesday, the Marists said that as soon as they received the accusations, superiors immediately removed the brothers from contact with minors, alerted Chilean prosecutors and offered victims psychological, legal and spiritual help. The community also launched a church investigation and asked the Vatican to remove the two brothers; a decision is pending.
Francis convened the Chilean church hierarchy in Rome after admitting he made “grave errors in judgment” about the case of a bishop, Juan Barros, accused by victims of Chile’s most well-known predator priest of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.
Francis had strongly defended Barros during his January trip to Chile, and sent in two Vatican experts to investigate after realizing something was amiss.
The investigators took testimony from the main victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was Barros’ superior. But the investigators also met with Marist victims and abuse victims of other priests in Chile, producing a 2,300-page dossier that is at the heart of this week’s meetings in the Vatican.
It’s unclear why Francis restricted the summit to Chilean bishops, since religious orders such as the Franciscans and Salesians, and communities such as the Marists operate somewhat independently of the diocesan bishop system, with their own superiors.
But in the case of the Marists, diocesan priests have also been implicated in the scandal, which involves allegations of abuse from decades ago through at least 2008. The victims have filed a criminal complaint against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six Marists. The allegations involve rape during camping trips and in the school locker rooms and showers.
In their Wednesday night statement, the Marists said they fully supported the legal action taken by victims, including the lifting of the statute of limitations.
“There is a total determination to apply the relative sanctions to those who are responsible,” the statement said.
It didn’t refer to the fact that many Chileans were outraged when the Marists admitted that the main brother accused had confessed in 2010, seven years before the community revealed the abuse.
“The actions that Pope Francis will take will be the only way to know if the times of cover-up inside the institution are over,” the victims wrote. “We’re concerned that the requests for forgiveness be translated into concrete and exemplary action.”
Eva Vergara reported from Santiago, Chile.