Across Latin America this week, the Church has been dealing with the abuse crisis, speaking out about the ongoing wildfires devastating the Amazon region, and speaking against corruption.
Here’s the round-up of news from Chile, Nicaragua, and the Amazon region.
Chile is arguably the country hit hardest by the clerical abuse crisis outside the English-speaking world, and two items are making news.
First, it was announced on Thursday Pope Francis has transferred Italian Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, who had been appointed as the papal representative to Chile in 2011, to Portugal.
The prelate has been in the eye of the storm after he played a key role in the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno.
Barros, a protégé of former priest Fernando Karadima - Chile’s most notorious clerical abuser - has long been accused by Karadima’s victims of covering up Karadima’s crimes.
The case was the spark lighting the fire of the abuse scandal in Chile, after Francis initially defended Barros. In the aftermath of the scandal, the pope has accepted the resignations of ten bishops accused of sexual abuse or cover-up.
Celebrating Scapolo’s removal from Chile, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Karadima survivor, went to Twitter to warn Portugal of this “demon, disciple of [Cardinal Angelo] Sodano and an evildoer. One less in Chile.”
It’s part of a nuncio’s job to send the Vatican a list of three candidates when there is a vacancy in a diocese. Scapolo presumably also advised the Holy See in the appointment of eight other bishops who were nominated by Francis, and some of the seven appointed during Benedict’s pontificate.
Earlier this year, Francis appointed two new auxiliary bishops for the capital Santiago, one of whom had to resign before being ordained due to controversial comments he made hours after his appointment on the abuse crisis, women and the Jewish community.
Scapolo’s move to Portugal means that Chile currently has no nuncio. This could further delay the episcopal appointments Francis still has to make: He hasn’t permanently replaced the ten bishops he removed, instead appointing administrators to oversee the dioceses temporarily. Currently, over a third of the 27 dioceses in the country are without a bishop.
The other news from Chile is that on August 23 the apostolic administrator of Santiago, Bishop Celestino Aos, made an appointment that caused some controversy: Mexican Father Roberto Aspe Hinojosa, 54, as the new adjunct judicial vicar of the archdiocesan tribunal is a member of the Legionaries of Christ.
The order was founded by Father Marcial Maciel, who was plagued with accusations of drug use, financial irregularities, and serial sexual abuse. The priest also fathered several children, some of whom also accused him of abuse.
Maciel, who died in 2008, was removed from public ministry in 2006.
Like many members of this order, Aspe said he believed in Maciel’s innocence until 2010, when the order publicly acknowledged the double life of the founder.
Aspe was a point man in the small group that led the reform of the Legion, despite having a close relationship with the founder, who personally led his formation.
After the abuse allegations were made public against Maciel, Aspe also defended the Legion’s “special vow” of “charity,” that required members to maintain secrecy, especially with regard to the actions of superiors. This and the vow of humility were lifted by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2007.
As one Chilean layman said to Crux, the appointment is “a big disappointment.” Others, however, noted that once the Church’s position on Maciel was clear, he “didn’t defend the indefensible.” He arrived in Chile last year, after spending five years as a headmaster of a school in Mexico.
The political and social instability that began in Nicaragua on April 2, 2018, has caused many leaders of the Catholic Church to denounce persecution and lack of religious freedom enforced by the security forces on the orders of President Daniel Ortega.
On Wednesday, in Masaya - not far from Managua, the country’s capital - the police put a Catholic church under siege while Father Edwin Román was saying Mass. The priest had been asking for the release of 126 political prisoners, who were incarcerated after taking part in protests against the government last year. Supporters of Ortega threw stones and firecrackers at the church.
In an interview last week, Bishop Juan Abelardo Mata, of Esteli, lamented that there’s “no normality” in the country and that priests “give me reports of instability.”
“Lately, the murders are not taking place in the streets of the city, but they’re in the mountains; they are selective murders of the people who’ve exercised a certain leadership in this region,” he said. “There’s fear. I haven’t been able to enter the rural areas for over a year.”
Mata acknowledged that bishops and priests feel “persecuted,” as do the laity. He told the anecdote of a group trying to prepare a spiritual retreat, but being unable to get together without the security forces assuming it’s a meeting to plot an attack against the government.
The bishop also said that even though he’s not keeping track, he knows that there are “several” priests who’ve had to flee the country in fear of their lives. Personally, he’s helped four priests leave Nicaragua through “blind spots” in the border with Honduras.
As fires continue to devastate the Amazon rainforest, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno went after Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, saying that he shouldn’t wait for an apology from French President Emmanuel Macron to receive foreign aid to stop the fires, but instead should seek “the common good.”
“I read earlier that Bolsonaro would accept this [G7 financial] aid if President Macron withdrew his words. This is not about taking back words or not, it’s about seeking the common good, which is above any dispute between two people,” Barreto said in an Aug. 28 interview.
After their meeting last weekend, the G7 offered Brazil $20 million to help fight the fires, but Bolsonaro said he’d only “negotiate” accepting the money if Macron apologizes for calling him a liar. Things escalated when the Brazilian president retaliated on Twitter with an offensive message against the French leader’s wife; the tweet was widely deemed as sexist and inappropriate.
To this, Macron replied that he hoped Brazil would soon have a president who could rise to the office he represents.
“There’s an awakening awareness of the universality of the Amazon, the importance it has for the world,” Barreto said. “Therefore, closing oneself off from an experience of solidarity does not fit into a world that wants to unite in the care of nature.”
Barreto is the vice-president of REPAM, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, an alliance of Catholic groups from Amazonian countries created in 2014; it is playing a key role in organizing the Vatican’s upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, which will take place this October in Rome.