With judicial intervention in Chile, abuse scandal takes on new dimension. Church documents have now been seized. Meanwhile, the papal special prosecutor pledges full cooperation to authorities.
Even the invasion of the special prosecutors was impressive. The Chilean prosecutor's office did not send just any officers, but the uniformed specialists of the Department O.S.9. Whose official task within the Chilean security apparatus, by its own definition, is to investigate criminal organizations. Investigators were interested in all documents from the dioceses of Santiago de Chile and Rancagua related to abuse allegations against Catholic clergy members.
Specifically, officials on Wednesday seized files stemming from the canonical proceedings since the years 2007, the daily "La Tercera" reported. The Rancagua diocese has also been asked to provide documents dating back to 2003, he said.
In an initial reaction, a representative of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile expressed surprise at the intervention of investigators. To the portal "24 Horas", judicial vicar Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano confirmed that the authorities had requested "all the documentation we have". Thus the Chilean abuse scandal, which has caused a worldwide stir since the pope's visit to Chile a few months ago, has become a case for the judiciary. The judicial evaluation and processing is expected to take months.
Invoking secrecy obligations
La Tercera" has learned that the public prosecutor's office decided to seize the documents after Pope's ambassador Ivo Scapolo initially refused to hand them over. He said the archbishop invoked confidentiality obligations in a letter. It is unusual to violate them, he said. The public prosecutor's office could, however, make a corresponding written request. As a result, the prosecutor's office decided to seize the documents, according to "La Tercera". According to legal experts, this kind of thing only happens when the authorities start from the amption that documents could be eliminated.
Immediately before, however, the pope's special investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, had ared the judicial authorities of his full cooperation, thus distancing himself from the nuncio. "As a church, we must cooperate with the judiciary. Abuse of minors is not only an offense under canon law, but also under civil law," Scicluna said during a press conference in Santiago. Ecclesiastical investigations should in no case interfere with the work of the judiciary. The protection of minors, he said, is the highest good that must be defended. Everything is to be subordinated to this good, so Scicluna.
Meeting with prosecutor's office planned
The archbishop also announced a meeting with prosecutors, probably to follow up his remarks with action. Scicluna is currently in Chile for a stay of several days to provide "technical and juridical assistance" in the processing of the case.
As in his first visit a few weeks ago, which served to clarify the accusations, he will be supported by the Spanish church lawyer Jordi Bertomeu.
At the center of the abuse scandal is Fernando Karadima, a charismatic priest, now 87, who was convicted of sexual offenses in 2011. Several bishops have emerged from his circle, including Juan Barros of Osorno, who is accused by Karadima's victims of complicity. Pope Francis had specially asked the entire Chilean Bishops' Conference to come to the Vatican to clarify the allegations. Meanwhile, in addition to Barros' resignation, Francis accepted two other bishops' resignations.