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INTERVIEW: The Abuses in Chile Were Not Stopped in Time Because “In Institutional Terms, the Chilean Church Was Not Prepared,” says Monsignor Fernando Ramos

Interview with the Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference (Part I)

Unfortunately, Chile has been the focus of all the media headlines in the last years, especially in January 2018, when Pope Francis visited the country, and on the historic massive “resignation” of the 32 Bishops, during the meeting in Rome with the Holy Father, which consisted, rather, in “leaving our offices in the Pope’s hands,” clarifies Monsignor Fernando Ramos, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Chile.

In the framework of the Meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” held from February 21-24, 2019, Zenit was granted an exclusive interview with the Apostolic Administrator of Rancagua, which has some one million faithful.

Monsignor Ramos took part in the meeting with Pope Francis on January 14, 2019, to inform the Holy Father how <the Bishops> are carrying out the process of renewal of the Church in the country, after the wave of violence against minors by priests and men religious, registered since the 80s.

Monsignor Luis Fernando Ramos was elected Secretary General <of the Episcopal Conference>, in November 2017, for a three-year period and, on June 28, the Pope appointed him Apostolic Administrator sede vacante et ad nutum Sanctae Sedis of the Diocese of Rancagua.

Here is Part I of Zenit’s unabridged interview with Chilean Bishop Fernando Ramos.

* * *

ZENIT: The problem of abuses in Chile had been going on for many years and, in many cases, it was known. Why do you think something so generalized in the Church wasn’t stopped earlier?

Monsignor Ramos: I think there are several reasons. In institutional terms, the Chilean Church was not prepared; the dynamic of sexual abuse wasn’t understood. First, the dynamic of sexual abuse wasn’t understood. Now we understand it; people who know have helped us . . . And, perhaps, at that time, at the societal level not much was known.

The belief was that it was only a personal problem, of a concrete person, that a sin or an error had been committed. Well, let’s give him another opportunity — ignorance again, of the logic of the functioning of abuse.

In the third place, let’s say, keeping it quiet; not sharing it with others, believing that it was a particular deed.

And afterwards, this generated an issue: to question ourselves on priestly formation or that of persons that accessed consecrated life either as Religious or as diocesan priests. It seems there were many lacunae in the formative processes. So, people were admitted who should not have been ordained or consecrated.

ZENIT: Do you think that some points must be implemented to improve the formation of seminarians or persons who wish to be consecrated?

Monsignor Ramos: I was Rector of the Seminary of Santiago, I was President of the Seminaries of Chile and we started to reflect profoundly on this subject in 2010, and also in depth on human formation, and many of these elements that help to understand the phenomenon of sexual abuse were incorporated in the formative processes. However, it’s a subject that is always being evaluated; it’s a subject that requires being evaluated.

ZENIT: How are the victims of the Chilean Church being accompanied?

Monsignor Ramos: There are several situations. Each victim has his own situation, which he has lived with much pain and much incomprehension, who has experienced a betrayed trust by a minister of the Church. Several possibilities have opened. It depends somewhat on the situation of each victim, on what is available. In some cases, professional accompaniment has been offered, in other cases, another type of support <has been given>. This is, rather, the path we are following and that depends, somewhat, on the requirements of each one of the victims.

ZENIT: The Pope requested that you meet with some victims of ecclesial abuses, if possible, before coming to the Meeting. Did you have the occasion to do so?

Monsignor Ramos: Yes, I met with six victims of sexual abuses, which they lived in the Church. It made a great impact, each moment, to hear their account. Accounts of much pain, of some of those situations lived a long time ago. However, the pain of much incomprehension continues in the present. And each one has lived it in a different way, although the consequences are quite similar, but what emerges in me is great respect, great consideration and great affection for these persons that, with much respect, wanted to share what they experienced, which is certainly very painful.

ZENIT: In May 2018 all of you, Bishops of Chile, left your offices in Pope Francis’ hands. This “resignation” has a three-month period of validity, according to Canon Law. To date, the Holy Father has “moved” seven Bishops. Can one presume that the Pope will continue removing Bishops?

Monsignor Ramos: Yes, it was a written resignation, which has already been carried out. Our availability is always in his hands, and we so manifested our full availability when we came. However, I think the great changes the Pope was thinking about, he has already done.

The only movement that we know must be done is that of the successor of Monsignor Ezzati, because he has already gone beyond two years of the age of limit. It’s an obvious fact that must change.

I arrived as Apostolic Administrator of Rancagua and I’m working as if I were a Bishop, in the sense that I don’t limit myself. Many things have to be done and certain long-term guidelines must be given. And if they take me away tomorrow, they take me away. However, I’m not thinking that I’m going to stay one or two days. It’s a very large Diocese — around one million inhabitants; there are many parishes and many villages; it’s all super-abundant. Moreover, when one arrives, one must get to know the people, the circumstances, the histories . . .

ZENIT: What requirements should new Bishops fulfil for their appointment?

Monsignor Ramos: That’s quite a long process, which is headed by the Nunciature of each of the countries and there are requirements of a doctrinal order, of a pastoral order, and of a disciplinary order, which have to be fulfilled. Today, I believe it’s essential that those persons that access the Episcopate in the whole Church must have at least a clear understanding of the phenomenon of sexual abuses, and of how they must be addressed.

ZENIT: The measures imply a renewal for Chile’s Church. You have spoken of hope. Do the Chilean faithful live in an atmosphere of hope?

Monsignor Ramos: The faithful live it in different ways. There are groups that are very critical; there are groups that are very bothered by what has happened in the Church and it’s obvious that it has been a very great crisis . . .which produces great indignation. There are others who are also very bothered because they offer their collaboration so that we can continue to progress on these sorts of subjects. And I have also seen in Chile that some are more <bothered>, others less so, some sectors are more <bothered>, other sectors less so, this isn’t homogeneous. There is a group of laymen who’ve taken this situation very seriously and they regard the Church as something of their own. They want to take part and collaborate to overcome these sorts of problems and these sorts of crimes.

So, I would say there is amplitude of expressions that is quite broad and that several currents or quite important ambits of reflection have been generated, which will certainly enrich the life of the Church quite a bit.

ZENIT: What concrete measures do you believe are necessary for the renewal of the Church in Chile?

Monsignor Ramos; Obviously, I think there are aspects that are directly related to the subject of sexual abuses, that is, that all the cases that are denounced, that are well investigated, must come to conclusions, that they be handled in keeping with the truth of the events and that justice be done.

Second, attention must be <paid> to the victims; we must approach them and have them feel that there is also concern for them. We have not always succeeded in doing so, and that is complicated sometimes; it’s difficult.

Also, but in a larger realm, I believe that this Pope, has insisted much, particularly, on the importance of synodality and collegiality in the life of the Church. All of us, baptized, make up the Church. And one of the reasons that explains why it’s possible to reach a condition of sexual abuses, or of conscience or of power, is when there are some members of the Church, especially some sacred ministers, that appropriate a condition — what the Pope calls clericalism — which leads to cause this type of abuses. This must be compared with the participation of all the members and all the baptized feeling themselves part of this church and, also, some must no assume a power or faculty that no one has given them, and which causes so much harm. So, I believe that there is a way of participation, or co-responsibility and that we can still take many more steps in Chile’s Church.

This is a contextual aspect, to be able to advance and that we all feel responsible for the life of the Church, not only the concrete case of abuse but in other dimensions.

ZENIT: You, yourself, said that in Chile Catholics are moving from a cultural Catholicism to a more personal one.” In addition to the problem of abuses, what do you think are the causes?

Monsignor Ramos: I would say that the subject of abuses has had a catalytic effect; it has accelerated the process, but the background process is much more profound and has to do with secularization and the implantation of a much more individualist culture, much more mercantilist, much more secularized, which has touches that are very similar to what is happening in Western Europe, in the sense that Chile is a country that  . . . the countries of the “Southern cone,” I believe that Argentina, Uruguay . . . are very, very close to the processes that are being experienced in Western Europe, of secularization, understood as such in which the religious dimension loses relevance in the personal, individual and cultural life of a community, of a society. And I think that is being experienced very strongly in Chile, and has been accelerated, perhaps, by these things. However, this process came from before and it’s very powerful.

Therefore, we are passing from this Catholicism that before, by the fact of being born in Chile — I’m talking of 20, 30, 40 years ago –, that one would say: “well, I’m Catholic, I’m baptized,” however, already then, religious practice was very low. Consequently, we are now passing to a more personalized Catholicism where one says he/she is Catholic because he/she has a relationship with Christ and feels part of the community of believers, not simply because of the fact of having been born in a country.

ZENIT: When did you last meet with Pope Francis and what did he say to you?

Monsignor Ramos: We were with him for three hours in January. It was a very fraternal meeting. We were first in the Apostolic Palace; we were gathered there for one hour and then, he himself invited us to lunch, where we were for two hours. Well lunch is always a more relaxed conversation . . . more informal. We talked about many topics, but we thought it important to tell him a bit how the process has been that we carried out; what the prospects are going forward and always putting ourselves in the greatest communion and closeness to the Holy Father’s will.

ZENIT: In this personal meeting, on what did the Pope insist?

Monsignor Ramos: We noted him very interested and very close to us. He stressed that communion is essential in the life of the Church; that is, that we must work amply and in communion among all. That was an element he upheld.

Another element was the conviction that, in view of this Meeting now, of this subject, that it must continued to be addressed decisively.

[Original Text: Spanish]

About Rosa Die Alcolea

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