SANTIAGO, Chile, NOV. 5, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The concept of “zero tolerance” in addressing cases of clerical sex abuse is ambiguous, warns Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa.
The archbishop of Santiago, who is also the president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, addressed the issue during a recent television interview. The Chilean episcopate is now considering how to address cases of sexual abuse involving priests and consecrated persons.
The cardinal emphasized that every bishop must be, at the same time, a pastor to priests and to the faithful, “especially the weakest, children.”
“One can never choose the option of protecting a priest to the detriment of other people,” he insisted.
The cardinal was emphatic on the need to maintain mutual respect for the civil and ecclesiastical authorities when addressing accusations against priests.
“There are two types of parallel investigations, and the kinds of punishments agreed are also very different,” he said. “I think that in this case it is good to have separation of church and state, and that each one take its own responsibility very seriously.”
In regard to priests shown to be guilty of abuses, Cardinal Errázuriz said that “if rehabilitation is not successful, the person cannot continue in the ministry.”
He emphasized the importance of proper information in this respect, and contended that the U.S. media exaggerated the cases of abuses committed by Catholic priests.
In fact, the archbishop reminded his audience that the level of abuse is much lower among priests when compared to other professional groups working with children under 18, or with the level of abuse within families.
The Church in the United States has paid a high price for two reasons, he said — “both because it entered into the spiral of compensations as well as the fact that the press has especially highlighted this fault in the Church.”
Lastly, Cardinal Errázuriz commented on the idea of “zero tolerance” and said that initially, it seems “very attractive.” However, “the first question I ask myself is: Is it realistic and Christian?” the cardinal said.
“I think that there is something that fails in the principle of zero tolerance,” he added. “I understand it perfectly well in the case of individuals who have no possibility of rehabilitation. When there is no rehabilitation, the person cannot continue in his office as a representative of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.”
However, to apply zero tolerance in all cases “does not work,” the cardinal stressed.
The Church “is not a society of saints,” he acknowledged. “The latter are in heaven; it is not so on earth. … Many times, in the course of history, the Church has lived through difficult moments, but by coming close to Jesus Christ, one emerges from difficult moments.”