Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, the Vatican announced on March 23. He has appointed a Spanish born Capuchin friar, Bishop Celestino Aós Braco of Copiapo, as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, the Vatican stated.
The pope’s decision came hours after the eight judges in an appeals’ court in the Chilean capital yesterday unanimously rejected the request of the cardinal’s lawyers to dismiss the charges of cover-up in cases of abuse of minors by three clerics in the archdiocese. The cases relate to the abuse of minors by the former chancellor of the archdiocese, the Rev. Oscar Muñoz; the Marist brother, Jorge Laplagne; and a former assistant in the cathedral, the Rev. Tito Rivera.
It seems that much of the evidence that had led to the cardinal’s incrimination came from documents obtained by the prosecutor, Emiliano Arias, when he ordered a raid on the archdiocesan offices last year. Last July, the cardinal opted for silence when asked to give testimony before a public prosecutor.
The appeal court not convinced by his defense, so he will now have to stand trial on these charges and answer in court in the coming months.
His lawyers, among other things, argued that some of the crimes happened between 2003 and 2009 when he was bishop of Concepciòn and had not yet come to Santiago. But the judges of the appeal court were not convinced by his defense, so he will now have to stand trial on these charges and answer in court in the coming months.
The 77-year old cardinal had already handed in his resignation twice: first on reaching the age of 75 and then last May together with the more than 30 Chilean bishops at the end of their summit meeting with Pope Francis on the situation in the country as a result of the widespread sex-abuse of minors by clergy scandal.
Pope Francis has already accepted the resignation of seven Chilean bishops, the cardinal is the eighth, and probably not the last. It is significant, however, that he has not appointed a new archbishop of Santiago to replace Cardinal Ezzati. Sources told America that the search for a suitable successor has not been easy and is not yet concluded.
Hence the pope’s decision to appoint Msgr. Aós Barco, O.F.M. Cap., who was born in the Archdiocese of Pamplona, Spain, in 1945, a man with high academic qualifications, including in canon law and psychology, as well as considerable pastoral experience, first in Spain and then in Chile where he arrived in 1983. Pope Francis appointed him as bishop of Copiapó in 2014, and today also assigned him this delicate task as apostolic administrator in Archdiocese of Santiago.
Sources told America that the search for a suitable successor has not been easy and is not yet concluded.
According to the local media, Cardinal Ezzati is one of seven bishops who now have to answer to the Chilean justice for their roles and responsibility in the abuse scandal, and some sources say he risks imprisonment if found guilty and convicted.
In addition to his problems with the country’s justice, the cardinal who was born in Italy but obtained Chilean citizenship in recent years for his significant contribution in the field of education of young people, now risks losing that citizenship if the Senate approves a law to this effect in the coming days, as seems likely. If he is deprived of Chilean citizenship, he would have to leave the country and this could further complicate the holding of the trial.
Among the cardinal’s most vocal critics is Juan Carlos Cruz, who along with fellow survivors José Andrés Murillo and James Hamilton, were invited to meet with the pope last April at the Vatican. Speaking to journalists May 2, Mr. Cruz said he told the pope how he was demonized by Cardinals Ezzati and Errazuriz in an email that was later leaked.
“They called me a ‘serpent,’ they called me everything. I told the Holy Father, and he said he was hurt, Mr. Cruz said. In a message to Catholic News Service March 23, Mr. Cruz applauded the pope’s decision to accept the cardinal’s resignation saying that “the pope knows what he is doing” and expressing hope that the pope would “find someone who will lead Santiago on the right path.”
Mr. Cruz also expressed his support of Bishop Aós in the difficult task of leading the archdiocese back “to what is true, to its source.”
“With all my heart, I wish Bishop Aós all the best. Anything is better than Cardinal Ezzati. We must also support Bishop Aós so that he can unite the clergy, so that he can unite what has been destroyed,” Mr. Cruz told CNS. “He doesn’t have an easy task ahead of him but obviously, we must support him.”
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.