Pope Francis’ Chilean Healing Mission

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National Catholic Register, 16 May 2018

The Holy Father's meeting with the Chilean bishops echoes the ‘emergency summit’ Pope John Paul II had with U.S. cardinals in April 2002, but it’s altogether different.

The May 15-17 meeting of the Chilean bishops with Pope Francis has invited comparisons to the emergency summit of American cardinals convoked by St. John Paul II in April 2002, when the heat of the sex-abuse scandal was burning hottest.

The Chilean summit differs from the U.S. summit in three key ways — in its origin, in its immediate consequences and in its ethos. It will likely end up just like the U.S. summit, though, in terms of its medium-term results.

The Chilean summit is not the result of the Father Fernando Karadima/Bishop Juan Barros scandal, which has been boiling away for several years. It is the result of Pope Francis himself turning up the heat. Indeed, the papal visit to Chile in January caused the entire matter to boil over.

Thus, while the origin of the 2002 summit was a crisis in the United States to which Rome was called upon to provide assistance, the 2018 summit has its origins in a crisis for the Holy Father to which the Chilean bishops have been summoned to help solve.

The Karadima affair has inflicted grave wounds on the Church in Chile, but Father Karadima himself had already been sentenced in a canonical trial before Francis’ election. It was the Holy Father’s subsequent decision to appoint Bishop Barros to a new diocese that ignited the embers in Chile, in a conflagration that derailed this year’s papal visit to Chile.

So the Chilean summit’s principal task is to repair the damage caused by the Holy Father’s visit, which poured salt in wounds instead of oil upon them, as Pope Francis repeatedly questioned the credibility of sex-abuse victims. That task has largely been achieved, with the Holy Father himself expressing his contrition in person to victims for bungling the Chilean sex-abuse file.

The Vatican summit will allow the Holy Father a personal opportunity to apologize to the Chilean bishops for not following their repeated advice on the matter of Bishop Barros, whom he appointed over their strenuous objections.

The Chilean bishops are certainly not victims in this matter generally, but Pope Francis has compounded their errors, frustrated their attempts at correction and damaged their credibility. There is a good deal of healing required there. No doubt the Holy Father will take responsibility for that and seek forgiveness from his Chilean brothers.

Second, the summit needs to “discern together, in the presence of God, the responsibility of all and of each one in these devastating wounds,” in the words of the Vatican statement released May 12 in advance of the summit.

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