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Celestino Aós Is Received By Pope Francisco © Twitter Iglesia De Santiago

Interview with the Apostolic Administrator of Santiago de Chile, Whose Pastoral Strategy Is a ‘Change of Heart’

Monsignor Celestino Aos’ Episcopal Motto Is ‘Love and Serve’

“It’s very clear to us all that it’s not enough to give decrees or change the person (. . . ) What is needed is a change of heart,” said the new Apostolic Administrator of Santiago de Chile. A “change of heart so that clericalism, of which there is so much talk and which certainly exists — at times very markedly –, will disappear.”

Monsignor Celestino Aos’ episcopal motto is “Love and Serve,” because this 74-year-old Franciscan Capuchin insists “the priest is not there to order or to impose, but to serve. He has a concrete function of service.”

Pope Francis appointed the Spanish Bishop — who has been living in Chile for 36 years –, Apostolic Administrator of Santiago de Chile on March 23, 2019, following the renunciation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello.

A native of Artaiz, Navarre, Spain, the Capuchin has been Pastor of the diocese of Copiapo, a desert area in the north-center of this Latin American country.

The Holy Father Francis received Monsignor Aos on Friday afternoon, April 5, 2019. In the subsequent days he visited the Vatican Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for the Clergy, for Bishops, those dedicated to religious life and the General Secretariat, where he had interviews that will be of help in his new pastoral mission, at the head of the Archdiocese of Santiago, with some six million faithful and, at present, one of the most complex to govern.

“I go here to the Congregations and everyone is eager to collaborate, to help,” namely, to help them ‘come out of this moment in which they are, and we want to help them to see how a future can be organized where this won’t happen again.” I have great esteem for Monsignor Scicluna and I hope he can help and give advice that is very effective for my management,” said Monsignor Aos to journalists last Monday, April 8, 2019.

Full Collaboration with the Civil Power

 Bishop Aos said that the Pope pointed out that there must be full cooperation with the prosecutors and with the civil power. ”When I asked him about the collaboration we’ll have with the prosecutors, with the civil power, if there are such cases, if the prosecutors make a concrete petition, that is, if they want to know what is known of this cause, he told me that he would study each case, if necessary and he will lift the pontifical secret and offer total collaboration.”

“You can be sure that that’s the Pope’s mentality and his testimony.” “The Pope isn’t playing a double card,” clarified Monsignor Aos to journalists in Rome, in front of the headquarters of the Holy See Press Office.

“I hope there will be changes,” said the Spanish Capuchin to the media. “There will be new Auxiliary Bishops. It’s impossible either for me or any other person to carry the weight of the government of a diocese like that one, ” adding that he had asked the Pope and the corresponding Vatican Congregation, “with urgency,” to appoint soon Auxiliary Bishops who can collaborate with him in the Archdiocese of over six million  people.

Here is a translation of Zenit’s exclusive interview with Monsignor Celestino Aos in Rome, during his visit to the Holy Father and the different Vatican Congregations.

* * *

–Q: Monsignor, were you expecting this appointment? How did you receive the news?

–Monsignor Aos: The truth is that it was an absolute surprise for me. It was a surprise four and a half years ago when I was appointed Bishop and then, of course, I didn’t have the slightest idea that they would call me for this service and these circumstances. It was somewhat astonishing and also a “holy fear” to think: What am I going to do there with that very great ship? However, one entrusts oneself to the Lord because “I haven’t sought any of those things.” It’s the Lord who calls through the Church, through others’ judgment and one feels that the Pope confirms it and that here also, up to know, in all the Dicasteries, there is an eagerness to collaborate, to help one.

–Q: Why did Pope Francis think of you to govern the Archdiocese of Santiago?

–Monsignor Aos: A good question, but you would have to ask him. I have not the most remote idea why. As I said, it was a surprise for me, because of the place where I was, and the work I have done . . . I don’t know. They no doubt evaluated and in that evaluation, two things were in play. In the first place, they judge one given the needs they have and also the needs that other persons might have. The truth is that I don’t know. I haven’t asked him.

Simply that, in this moment the Church in Santiago is living in a complex, delicate situation, with some enormous problems of abuses; however, that’s only one problem, because Santiago’s Church is much greater than all that. One must realize that there are hundreds of priests and men religious, women religious, that there is a whole social world . . . there are many millions also  . . .  It’s quite something to pass from a diocese, such as that of the North — of 300,000 inhabitants, notwithstanding the fact that the diocese is large but, as it’s desert, it doesn’t have many inhabitants — to a diocese of six million people, it’s to meet all the complexity, because the academic and health worlds are there . . .

–Q: You are an Apostolic Administrator. Did the Pope tell you when he will appoint the Archbishop?

–Monsignor Aos: He didn’t say anything to me. The only thing I’m certain of is that I won’t be there for a long time . . . because of my age, but what is much time for the Holy See?  I don’t know . . . years, there are processes. I don’t think it will be a short time either, that is, they have made all these changes in three months. There is no definite deadline — I imagine they are evaluating and preparing . . . because the diocese doesn’t depend so much on a person, but on processes that must be initiated, and that must be accomplished. One “starts” the processes and then they must be given time, there must be given patience for things to begin to be realized.

The Pope was speaking to us just now about that — I’ve come from the Mass at Saint Martha’s — and that we now live in a “short-term” society, and if things aren’t obtained immediately, one gets discouraged and says “no more,” and that’s not right. One must give time, inside the Church, precisely for those processes to get underway.

At present, there are eight dioceses in Chile, which have an Administrator, and don’t have a Bishop. It’s in such conditions usually that there is a social situation and an appointment is made. Then, in some cases, the one who has been Administrator is appointed Bishop of the place. In those cases, the Bishop can be an Administrator of another place or he can simply return to his ordinary task. There is nothing fixed on this in the Church. This means that today I’m here and tomorrow the Pope can tell me to go to the Church of Linares or Valdivia, or he can say to me go to your convent and it’s finished.

–Q: Your episcopal motto is “Love and Serve.” Why did you choose it?

–Monsignor Aos: Fifty-one years ago, when I was going to be ordained a priest, one generally took a phrase from the Gospel, or something similar. So I chose the motto “Anointed priest to love and serve God and men,” but that’s fine in a writing, or a holy card, but when you are told that it must be put on a shield, one has to decide and at the end cut away and what remains is “Love and Serve.” That’s the meaning because that’s the meaning of my life. Namely, to live the priesthood, to make one’s life a service to others and to try to love others that, perhaps, is the most difficult, so that at the end one wonders how much one really loves people. And that’s what they are going to ask us one day when we are given the last examination.

–Q: You have asked the Holy Father for the quick appointment of Auxiliary Bishops. What did the Pope say to you in this connection?

–Monsignor Aos: I regard it as necessary because it’s obvious that such a large Church, with such a complex situation, can’t be handled by only one person. It would be unthinkable, either for me or for a younger person. Auxiliaries are always necessary, although one does have the help of the whole Curia, the Auxiliaries are also necessary. And, in this case, I asked for it and the Pope himself encouraged me to request it urgently because there are people who think that the Pope is the one who determines and one signs and that’s that, no? The Pope receives the petition but he must count on the help of the Congregation for Bishops.

The Congregation for Bishops will have to examine the candidates proposed to it; it will have to study a series of conditions and then make the appointment. I hope the appointment will be soon because I will arrive in Santiago and I don’t even know the Diocese of Santiago, as regards its structure, its personnel, and that’s why I’ve asked that it be done with urgency, and the Pope also agrees with that, that the process be speeded up as much as possible.

–Q: “Makeup touches aren’t enough. We need reforms and profound changes.” What will be your first steps towards a Church that prevents abuses in the great Archdiocese of Santiago?

–Monsignor Aos: The truth is that the changes to which I referred are what the Pope insisted on and we all know clearly that it’s not enough to give decrees or to change a person, namely, who was in this office and we <now> move him to another place. But what is necessary is a change of heart, a change of heart so that the clericalism, of which there is so much talk and which certainly exists –and sometimes very markedly –, disappears. As I said, the priest is there to serve, not to order or impose. He has a concrete function of service. To “serve” doesn’t mean that he’ll let each one do what he feels like. He will have the task to order, to direct, to have the last word, but he will <also> have to listen to others, because there are many people that simply stay looking and then criticize. No, we are all collaborators and each one must make his contribution.

Concretely, what are the changes? I don’t have a structure, namely, that I must change this, I must change that, but I must go, as I say, I must begin by leading this process, and in the concrete case of the victims, I must continue with what has already been initiated, namely, to put persons first. We are not about defending an institution, which is the mistake that at some point was made. It is said that “for the good of the Church one defends with the truth and recognizes that one of her children sinned, who did a wicked thing, which he will have to admit and ask for forgiveness. They have already begun with this style, namely, first is the truth and the persons. That’s the way to defend the Church. In this regard, zero tolerance of things that happened or might happen.

And then, a great process is also taking place – gigantic, I’d say –, because I don’t know any such global institution that it doing it with the intensity that it’s been done in Chile, that is, the preparation of the pastoral agents. There are thousands that have already taken courses on prevention, geared to improve pastoral practices, to say: how can we have a safer environment, so that a mother or a father that takes his child to catechesis knows that his child is in safe surroundings, that he won’t be in the hands of a predator or of a sexual criminal.

–Q: Awaited, also, is the forthcoming publication of the Vademecum for all Bishops after the meeting that was held.

–Monsignor Aos: Yes, they are preparing it because although we, as I said, already have the guidelines in Chile, there is a process, in other parts of the Church and also among us, as this is , let’s say, it’s something new; each Bishop, or in some cases each country, did things somewhat their way, sometimes with errors, not out of bad will but because of a lack of knowledge and so on. Now I understand — I haven’t seen the draft — that the Vademecum  is being prepared, which will give concrete  ways and orientations  to be able to say in these cases “proceed.” This is the procedure, which will favour those that have to undertake procedures, be they Bishops, or recipients of denunciations or judges, and also to the people so that in this way the people, any person, who knows and can say this is the procedure and will be able, if necessary — if the person believes he must criticize it –, to criticize it and suggest its improvement, because there is no human work that is already finalized, it must be improved, and it will be a great step forward.

It’s also going to unify. Then, here in Rome also, no doubt, they will have an easier time of it because the information that was arriving, would arrive from one place in a certain format and with another from another, so it will be much easier for the officials that have to work on it.

–Q: What did the Pope entrust to you in your meeting with him?

–Monsignor Aos: I had a long audience with the Pope, of over an hour, alone, cordial; the Holy Father is always welcoming. We talked about personal things and about subjects concerning the journey of such an important Church as the Church of Santiago, which is such a complex Church.

The Pope is well informed. The Pope is close to the people of Chile and is concerned that the people be given the best possible religious service. The Pope knows that the Church is also the people that suffer, those that have been victims, that suffer, but there are also the elderly.

They know that Saint Paul used, as a comparison of the Church, a body that has all its members. We also considered with the Pope that, in the Church, not only is the part of some brothers that are wounded by the abuses that occurred, that are victims but also those that have been touched by it in some way.

The Church is Santiago is very rich; there are the married couples, the children, the young people, education, the elderly and workers . . .  that is, it’s very ample and very rich. And the Holy Father always emphasized that I should be the Pastor of the whole Church of Santiago.

–Q: Commission or Council for the prevention of abuses in Santiago. The creation of the figure of the Pastoral Agent has been created at the level of the Episcopal Conference. Are you studying the creation of an organism or profile in the Archdiocese?

–Monsignor Aos: Yes, the Pastoral Agents function at the level of the Episcopal Conference because the Conference took very seriously  the concept “zero tolerance,” that is, we will exact — from any Pastoral Agent who is going to act in a parish, whether he is the priest or the sacristan, or the catechist — first that he has an irreproachable background; it can’t be that he is stained or sentenced for that –, but we will exact that he have this preparation so that, first of all, in fact, he doesn’t fall into those practices, because sometimes there are practices that are  a bit ambiguous and that end up by being more than “a bit ambiguous,” ending by being defective.

But also to be alert and to discover if these practices are going on, that is, if, for example, a boy or girl pupil in a school or a catechesis is changing in behaviour or has certain signs that the person in charge can say: something is going on there, be careful, and can see to it that the situation isn’t prolonged, so that it doesn’t get worse, and this is what is intended in the guidelines.

But they don’t only look at this aspect — that there will be an error . . . but that we have a Gospel and we have a need to offer a better service to brothers. Jesus Christ says to us, “love one another,” “serve each other,” and it’s about this. For instance, it’s not only about eroticism and sexuality, there is also bullying, often also ridiculing, (which is virtually the same as bullying) but there are also many <other> ways of humiliating another, to make him feel inferior, etc.  and all this must be rejected because it goes against the Gospel, and our schools and institutions are Christian, they are Catholic, not simply because they hang a series of religious pictures or religious symbols on the wall, which is fine, but because those persons, in fact, live religious values. We wouldn’t achieve anything by putting a religious image of the Virgin in the patio if later they are beating and insulting one another.

–Q: Do the Religious Congregations (for instance, the Marists) hold to the general guidelines of the Episcopal Conference or do they follow another criterion?

–Monsignor Aos: Through the CONFER organization, which brings together the men and women religious, the latter adhere and have also been formed in this spirit of the guidelines but then, each Congregation, be it Jesuits, the Divine Word, Salesians, Marists have their own protocols, some protocols — I’d say some are designed better than others — just like the schools, any of them can have their regulation, where there are basic things; others have gone farther ahead. This is also of help when it exists and a comparison can be made and a sharing and say “this is what we have” or “this is not turning out well,” etc. it’s to help others in this search for improvement in social and other relations.

–Q: According to the Chilean Prosecutor’s numbers, on the sexual crimes of clerics and laymen linked to the Catholic Church– there are 158 current cases that involve 219 persons being investigated and 241 victims (of whom 123 were minors when the event happened). What message do you wish to give all these persons?

–Monsignor Aos: My message to the victims is that I am also their Pastor, that I am ready to receive them, of course, and not only receive them but help  hem in so far as possible, in the pain and suffering they are enduring, something that should never have happened but did happen, and happened to them, in fact, with members of the Church.

And not only that but also invite those that have already passed through that Calvary, to help us. They can help us to say: here there was a danger sign or things didn’t function like that . . . or, be careful with this. Or also, when one has already suffered, how one can begin to overcome it, as each one has lived a different process and can point out what was helpful, comforting and encouraging to go forward. In this connection, the victims also have a construction function to prevent, which is of utmost importance, because it’s an experience that only they have lived.

–Q: I believe you’ve had the occasion to be with priests who were victims of Karadima in Santiago de Chile. What did you learn from their testimonies?

–Monsignor Aos:  I met with some priests and I was also in El Bosque community. Karadima lived there and it was the headquarters of that group of priests; it is a parish, and the people of the parish have also suffered a lot, simply because of that. It was a lovely experience because I was with the priests, I listened to them, and they also have their journey to undertake . . . each one has borne his interior process.

And then I was with the people; we celebrated a Mass and had tea. And here also some persons were able to express themselves; they were able to talk because there is much pain, much hope, a great desire to collaborate, but all that must be agglutinated, picked up by someone. And I think that’s the Bishop’s function; it’s not that someone has a magic wand to say: the problems are solved here, but yes to say: together, how can we build the tomorrow? Because we can’t remain deadlocked in what happened and turning it around over and over and simply complain . . . but we must build.

–Q: Will you meet soon with Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and Jose Andres Murillo? How do you think they can collaborate with you in your new pastoral government?

–Monsignor Aos: In the first place, we can help them in their pain because the pain is a pain that is with one always, almost as a shadow. Anyone who has suffered a trauma continues living with it. It forms part of his life. The challenge now is how to handle what is going on, and that one didn’t want or never would have wanted to ever happen, to have him integrate into the process of construction of our biography. A person who has had an accident, a mother whose son was murdered, etc. will always live it and not forget it. Hence those that try to forget it with drugs or alcohol. Such persons, in fact, do themselves greater harm. We must help them, but also see in what way they can also help us. And, logically some make their contribution one way, and others another way I don’t know, concretely, how they will act. I have the intention to meet with them soon, as soon as I return to Santiago, and to talk a bit, to see in this dynamic what channels can be opened.

–Q: Over these days in Rome you’ve had the occasion to meet with some brothers, specialists in the subject of abuses in the Church, such as Monsignor Scicluna and Cardinal O’Malley. What advice has Cardinal O’Malley given you in this area?

–Monsignor Aos: I met him this morning –Tuesday, April 9 — in Saint Martha’s and we were concelebrating. Yesterday I lunched with him. We are both Capuchins and, in fact, I was very interested in meeting with him because he is a reference, he is a man, let’s say, who is an expert in this. And we talked. I asked him concrete things, such as how they have attended the victims; how they have attended the victims’ families; how they have attended the communities and how they have also attended the priests and clerics who fell, that is, the perpetrators. And he told me the concrete things they are doing. It’s not about our copying what they are doing in Boston. There are things that, because of the temperament, the ideology, the civil legislation itself, they have to do one way, but there are other things that do help.

Cardinal O’Malley has always shown himself a brother and very close, so much so that I insisted again, that it’s my hope that he visit us in Chile and that he has a meeting with the clergy precisely to help with that eagerness to help one another to overcome this and be better Christians.

 

About Rosa Die Alcolea

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