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Catholic Church

Chilean Catholic Church apologises after issuing guidelines saying priests should not ‘touch the genitals’ of children

Guidelines published on the Santiago archdiocese’s website slammed by critics for their obvious nature, as sex abuse crisis continues

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 5:14pm

The Catholic Church in Chile, which is embroiled in a widespread sexual abuse crisis, faced more criticism this week after it published guidelines for priests’ behaviour on the Santiago archdiocese’s website.

Critics slammed church officials for the obvious nature of the recommendations and for not getting to the root of the abuse crisis plaguing the church internationally.

The document suggested, for example, that priests should not “touch the genitals” of children or sleep with or beside them. It also said priests should not photograph minors while naked because such photos could be “misinterpreted”. Clergy should also avoid “giving massages to or kissing children, adolescents or vulnerable people on the mouth”, the guidelines said.

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According to the Associated Press, the document did not explicitly mention sexual abuse, instead describing certain behaviour as “painful acts” or “equivocal signs”.

Responding to the criticism, Auxiliary Santiago Bishop Cristián Roncagliolo said: “We’ve made a mistake, and we’re going to fix it,” according to the AP. “A crime is a crime.”

The guidelines, which were supposed to be made official next April, were deleted from the archdiocese’s website after the outcry.

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The sex abuse crisis in Chile has rattled the Vatican, prompting Pope Francis to send investigators to look into the allegations. More than 30 Chilean bishops have offered their resignations, and about 120 cases are being investigated for abuse and for covering up the allegations of abuse.

One is Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who has been accused of covering up allegations. He appeared in court this week but chose to remain silent. He has promised to repair “all damage caused to victims and anyone who has suffered or is suffering because of this”.

Ezzati had signed the widely criticised guidelines.

The Pope has recently taken measures to address the abuse crisis more aggressively in Chile. Last month, he defrocked Fernando Karadima, an elderly Chilean priest, years after it emerged that he had a history of sexually abusing children. Karadima was initially found guilty in 2011 but was only ordered to spend his life in “prayer and penitence” and not formally defrocked.

The defrocking came after Francis had defended Chilean bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who victims say spent years covering up Karadima’s abusive behaviour.

“The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk,” Francis said in January. “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”

A few months later, and after much criticism, the Pope backtracked. He said he had made “grave errors” with regard to the sex abuse crisis in Chile. His statement came after Vatican investigators turned in a 2,300-page dossier of victim statements documenting the scale of abuse in Chile. The Pope accepted Barros’s resignation in June.

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Jaime Concha, who says he was raped by a priest in Chile in the 1970s, was quoted by the AP this week as saying that the archdiocese’s guidelines were “an embarrassment”.

“It describes actions that are violations of human rights of children and teenagers like me who are victims of clerical abuse,” he said.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera will visit Rome this month, Voice of America reported, and plans to meet the Pope at the Vatican. Pinera, a Catholic, has called the abuse “dark times”.

“The church knows more than anyone that it was wrong,” he said at a recent church service.