Church Manual to Prevent Sex Abuse Sets Off Outrage of Its Own

A demonstration against clerical abuses was held Thursday outside Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati’s residence in Santiago, Chile.Credit

By Pascale Bonnefoy

The manual, published by the Archbishop’s office of Santiago, Chile, said that it was inappropriate to “pat the buttocks or touch the genital area or chest” of minors.

It recommended that members of the clergy refrain from a host of actions, ranging from “laying next to or sleeping with children or adolescents” to giving massages, wrestling and “hugging from behind.” Also on the list of prohibited activities: “kissing on the mouth.”

The guidelines, detailed in a document posted to the church’s website last week, were withdrawn two days later, on Sept. 29.

Chileans were outraged, in part because the guidelines never described the behavior as sexual abuse. They have watched the Catholic Church hierarchy struggle to atone and regain the trust of the faithful after decades of sexual abuse and concealment.

To many, the guidelines were evidence the church still does not understand the difference between criminal actions and “expressions of affection,” as the document called these acts.

Patricia Muñoz, who leads an agency created by the government in January to protect children’s rights, told reporters that she was “in a state of shock” after reading the manual.

The guidelines reflect “a brutal lack of understanding of the limits that a pastoral guide must have regarding children and adolescents,” she said.

Over the past few months, the Chilean Public Prosecutor’s Office has raided church offices in Santiago, the capital, and across the country, uncovering files with accusations of abuses that were never turned over to the authorities. This evidence has led to the opening of 119 cases involving 178 potential victims.

In the past two decades, 44 Chilean clergy members have been condemned for abuse by the Vatican or the courts.

An additional investigation into clerical abuse was ordered by Pope Francis in January.

Earlier that month, he had visited Chile and mounted a spirited defense of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, whom abuse victims accused of protecting the country’s most notorious pedophile priest, Fernando Karadima. This set off a storm of recriminations

In an about-face that was welcomed by his supporters, Francis issued an apology and then the following month sent the Vatican’s leading sex crimes investigators to Chile to look into the accusations against Bishop Barros. The investigators probed more widely and found evidence of a decades-old “culture of abuse” and concealment within the Chilean church.

In April, Francis invited three of Mr. Karadima’s victims to the Vatican and a month later summoned the entire Bishops Conference to Rome, where they all offered to resign.

The timing of the publication of the guidelines against sexual abuse by the office of the Archbishop of Santiago could not have been worse. Signed by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the document was posted online just a day before Pope Francis defrocked Mr. Karadima.

Cardinal Ezzati himself is being investigated on accusations of covering up abuses. This week, prosecutors in the city of Rancagua summoned him for questioning, but Cardinal Ezzati exercised his right to remain silent, on his lawyers’ recommendation. It is unclear what the next steps will be in his case.

In issuing a brief apology, the archbishop said that the nine-page manual was intended to prevent clerical abuse by detailing behavior that was unacceptable for lay or ordained members of the church toward children, teenagers or people with disabilities.

The document also warned priests against offering money or gifts to children without parental consent, transporting minors in a vehicle without the presence of another adult and looking at or taking photos of children or teenagers when they are nude, taking a shower or getting dressed.

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Santiago on May 18, 2018. After three days of meetings with Pope Francis at the Vatican, thirty-four Chilean bishops announced their resignation over a child sex abuse scandal within the Church in Chile.

“Any sexually explicit or pornographic material is absolutely inadmissible,” said the guidelines.

The manual also covered a variety of other matters, like the safety and supervision of minors, assistance to the vulnerable, the use of technology and spiritual guidance.

The archbishop’s office said in a statement that the guidelines, which were drafted by the church’s Council for Abuse Prevention, had followed international standards but it also acknowledged problems with the text.

“We will correct certain contents that were translated too literally and are inappropriate or may be misinterpreted,” the statement said. “We apologize and will publish a new version promptly.”

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