Arriving on his second visit to Chile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said his mission to the country is a sign of Pope Francis' closeness to the local church following devastating reports of sexual abuse and cover-ups by members of the clergy.
Speaking to journalists in Santiago June 12, the archbishop said his team's pastoral mission includes providing "concrete technical and legal assistance to the dioceses in Chile so they may give adequate responses to each case of sexual abuse of minors committed by clergy or religious."
Archbishop Scicluna, president of a board of review handling abuse cases within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, an official of the doctrinal congregation, visited Santiago June 12-13 before going to Osorno June 14-17.
Pope Francis accepted the resignation of 61-year-old Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Chile, and two other Chilean bishops June 11. Bishop Barros' appointment as head of the Diocese of Osorno in January 2015 sparked protest because of the bishop's connection to Father Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
Several of Father Karadima's victims alleged that Bishop Barros -- then a priest -- was present when the abuse occurred.
Regarding the team's visit to the Diocese of Osorno, Archbishop Scicluna said he and Father Bertomeu have "the task of manifesting the pope's closeness" to the diocese and the people of the city "in a sign of service and communion in a context of prayer, liturgical celebration and mutual listening and cordiality."
Upon his arrival in Santiago, Father Bertomeu told journalists, "We have come to ask forgiveness in (the pope's) name."
Among the other resignations accepted by Pope Francis were Archbishop Cristian Caro Cordero of Puerto Montt and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte Garcia de Cortazar of Valparaiso. Both had reached the customary retirement age of 75.
However, several former seminarians in Valparaiso reacted negatively to the announcement that Bishop Duarte's resignation was accepted due to age and not for allegedly covering up their abuse at the hands of members of the clergy.
In an interview with Chilean radio station Radio Bio Bio, Marcelo Soto, a former seminarian who studied at the San Rafael de Lo Vasquez seminary, alleged his report of abuse by Father Humberto Henriquez was ignored by the bishop, who at the time served as vicar general of the diocese of Valparaiso.
He also claimed that he was asked by Bishop Duarte what he did to provoke the priest's sexual advances and was advised "to keep quiet."
Several other former seminarians also accused Bishop Duarte of sexual abuse and abuse of conscience and power; they said they sent their complaints directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith after the Diocese of Valparaiso and the apostolic nunciature refused to accept them.
In a June 6 statement, the Chilean bishops' conference denied receiving complaints against Bishop Duarte and said there was "only one complaint made to civil authorities several years ago against him and other bishops and priests that were dismissed."
However, Father Eugenio de la Fuente Lora, a survivor of abuse who along with several Chilean priests met with Pope Francis June 2, said the bishops' statement "did not conform with the truth."
"An ecclesiastical complaint dated May 19, 2010, was delivered to the apostolic nunciature in Santiago de Chile," Father de la Fuente told the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.
When asked by journalists whether any more resignations from the country's bishops will be accepted, Father Bertomeu said that decision was up to Pope Francis.
"We must leave that in (Pope Francis') hands, but we must be very hopeful that things will go well," he said.