By Inés San Martín
(Crux) SANTIAGO, Chile – After less than a week, Chile’s national prosecutor has decided to cancel a cooperation agreement it had signed with the national bishops’ conference on handling clerical sexual abuse cases, following an uproar over the terms of the deal among abuse survivors.
A statement released by the Public Ministry on Monday said the decision came after “meeting with several groups of abuse survivors.”
According to the statement, the goal of the deal was to generate a channel of access to the justice system for victims who choose to make complaints to the Church and not the prosecutor’s office, “amplifying the established legal standard and ensuring the confidentiality of the victims in case they ask for it.”
Yet, seeing that the agreement, had caused “mistrust and had a painful impact for the victims,” a situation that wasn’t “foreseen nor wanted,” Jorge Abott, the national prosecutor who signed the agreement April 30 with the secretary of the bishops’ conference, called it off.
Among the survivors who spoke out against the agreement is Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of the notorious pedophile ex-priest Fernando Karadima, who said he wouldn’t stop until “Abott resigns.”
On Twitter, Cruz said Monday that “I’m more convinced that when we unite for fair causes, with solid ideas and people who are looking for the common good, we win,” he said. “This is how we build a new country. With a justice that is equal for everyone, where those who reigned lead less.”
Eduardo Valenzuela, dean of the faculty of Communication of Chile’s Catholic University, said Monday that survivors today, “thankfully,” are an integral part of resolving this crisis with most of the public opinion on their side.
“We cannot do anything without the victims,” Valenzuela said. “They are no longer individual victims, but associations, spokespersons, and we cannot forget them.”
Ana Maria Celis, president of the Church’s National Council of Prevention of Abuse and Attention of Victims, said Monday minutes after the agreement was scrapped that the decision by the prosecutor “doesn’t change the commitment we have to facilitating victims’ access to justice.”
“The fact is that victims continue to come to the Church because they understand that they can achieve what’s perhaps most important for them: That the person [who abused them] is removed from the priesthood,” Celis said.
Both Celis and Velenzuela spoke at a workshop on church communications organized by Chile’s Pontifical Catholic University May 6-7.
According to Celis, the Catholic Church receives two new allegations each week, and since last June, it’s helped close to 60 survivors of clerical sexual abuse get in touch with civil justice.
“State justice can achieve something church justice cannot, and vice-versa,” Celis said. “Without canonical justice, a person could continue to say Mass while in prison.”
She also said that Abott’s decision won’t diminish the Church’s commitment with victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse.
“This commitment is based on intention of being one church, which has a unified reaction at a diocesan level, at a religious community level and also among the laity,” Celis said, asking how many among the more than 200 attendees at the conference had actually read the Church’s guidelines for prevention of abuse or participated in the prayer services of reparation to victims.
Celis’ comments are in line with a statement released on Monday by the Chilean bishops’ conference, saying the prelates reaffirm their “will to do everything necessary to give [to the prosecutor] all the information that the bishops’ conference receives and that help the state find the truth and achieve justice.”
The statement, signed by “the communications team” of the conference, also said they understand the decision made by Abott, while underlining that with the agreement they wanted to ensure the Church’s collaboration goes beyond what’s demanded by the state, not to receive “preferential treatment.”
According to Chilean law, some public officials are considered mandatory reporters of suspected crimes, but pastoral agents aren’t. The deal would have made it mandatory for priests and religious to report suspicions apart from cases protected by the seal of the confessional.
Under the deal, if victims asked that their names not be shared with prosecutors, the Church would have provided information as to the date, the place and the perpetrator, but not the victim.
Monday was a challenging day for the prosecutor’s office, when Emiliano Arias, a public investigator with a high profile who’s led probes against nine bishops subpoenaed to testify on charges of either abuse or cover-up, was suspended by Abott because of charges of misconduct in other cases.