By Emeka Ejere
Police and prosecutors have raided Catholic Church offices in two Chilean cities looking for documents and investigative reports related to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the country.
The surprise raids took place at the headquarters of the Ecclesiastical Court in Santiago, and the bishop’s office in Rancagua, in the O’Higgins region where 14 priests are accused of having had sexual relations with minors, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
“In Chile, we are all subject to common justice,” said prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who led the raid in Santiago.
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the Archbishop of Santiago, said Church officials “gave the prosecutor all the requested documentation”, adding that the officials are “available to cooperate with the civilian justice system in all that is required”.
Last month, all of Chile’s 31 active bishops offered to resign over their collective failure to protect Chile’s children from priests who committed abuse, including rape.
The police raids came as two leading Vatican investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, are in Chile to investigate the sexual abuse of minors committed by clergy.
Scicluna and Bertomeu earlier this year put together a 2,300-page report that led the Pope to realise that he had misjudged the situation in Chile and to concede that he had made “grave mistakes” in previously defending Bishop Barros of Osorno, who is at the centre of cover up claims.
On Monday, Francis accepted the resignation of Barros, along with that of Archbishop Cristián Caro Cordero of Puerto Montt and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortázar of Valparaíso. The Pope named a temporary leader for each diocese.
Barros, 61, has been the subject of intense controversy since Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno in 2015 despite objections from local Catholics, the Pope’s own sex abuse prevention advisers and certain other bishops in Chile.
In a letter addressed to Chile’s bishops and released by the Vatican in April, Francis said he had made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information”.
The Pope’s extraordinary apology came after a number of victims alleged that, while a priest, Barros had witnessed them being abused by his mentor, Fr Fernando Karadima.
Karadima denied the charges. But in 2011, he was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of prayer and penance after being found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
Protesters and victims said that Barros was present during some of the abuse and is guilty of protecting Karadima.
Pope Francis visited Chile in January and asked for forgiveness over abuse by some priests in the country, saying: “I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the Church.”
However, he caused controversy when he told reporters later: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.”
The raids in Chile this week were reminiscent of the police search in 2010 carried out at the headquarters of the Catholic Church hierarchy in Belgium, which prompted Pope Benedict XVI to intervene against what he described as the “deplorable” intrusion in the Catholic Church’s legal process, the AP noted.
Amid claims that church leaders were continuing to cover up abuse cases, Belgian police removed computers and hundreds of files. The raid led to a Catholic panel investigating abuse to shut down in protest, arguing that Belgian authorities had betrayed the trust of nearly 500 victims who made complaints to the panel.