Chile’s Catholic Church criticized over guidelines regarding sexual abuse

FILE PHOTO: Archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati is seen during a meeting of the Chile's Episcopal Conference in Punta de Tralca, Chile August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

(Reuters) – Chile’s Roman Catholic Church was criticized by victims’ groups on Monday as having “poor judgment” and being arrogant after it apologized for a manual published on the website of Santiago’s archbishop instructing priests and other Church workers not to “touch the genitals of” or “sleep with” children.

The document, posted last Thursday, provided guidelines for the interaction of church staff with the lay community and was signed by Santiago Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati, who is under investigation for allegedly covering-up abuse.

It was to be discussed with Chilean congregations before being approved as official guidelines, but the document was removed from the website on Friday after media reports and social media criticism of the necessity for such basic guidelines.

Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually abused by a priest as a boy and traveled to the Vatican this year to meet with Pope Francis, said it was “outrageous” that it should be necessary to explain to anyone that touching children’s genitals was wrong.

“To publish this without anyone raising alarm shows their arrogance and lack of attention to what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s a reflection of their attitude.”

Marcial Sanchez, a Chilean Church historian who has campaigned for the Church to pay closer attention to accusations of abuse, said the Church’s apologies over such accusations and how it handles them were beginning to ring hollow.

“This shows there are still people in the senior leadership of the church who lack judgment and don’t understand the depth of this crisis,” Sanchez said.

The Church in Chile and elsewhere is facing widespread accusations of sexual misconduct by priests and non-clergy employees and cover-ups by Church leaders, and investigations of such claims in multiple jurisdictions.

The document labeled as “inappropriate” actions that a child “might not accept, or might reject” such as “too tight hugs, or touching bottoms or the genital area.”

It cautioned against “lying or sleeping with, giving massages to or kissing children, adolescents or vulnerable people on the mouth.”

Santiago’s auxiliary archbishop Cristián Roncagliolo said in a statement posted on the Church’s website on Sunday, “We have asked for forgiveness,” and suggested that some aspects taken from Church documents in other countries had been translated “too literally.”

“There are mistakes in the text, perhaps caused by our adopting guidelines from other cultures,” he said, adding that the document would be revised “to reflect in our own words that a crime is a crime.”

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