Pope Francis on Saturday defrocked two more Chilean bishops accused of sexually abusing minors, and to show greater transparency about how he’s responding to the church’s global sex abuse crisis, he publicly explained why they were removed.
The Vatican’s unusually detailed statement announcing the laicization of retired Archbishop Francisco Jose Cox Huneeus and retired Bishop Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez signaled a new degree of transparency following past missteps by Francis that showed he had grossly underestimated the gravity of the abuse scandal.
The statement said the two were defrocked for abusing minors with evidence so overwhelming that a canonical trial was unnecessary. The Vatican said the decision cannot be appealed.
Cox, who is in his 80s and suffering from dementia, is a member of the Schoenstatt religious order and had served as a bishop in Chillan, Chile, before becoming the No. 2 official at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, a high-profile position during John Paul II’s papacy.
He returned to Chile and became bishop in La Serena until he left in 1997 under unclear circumstances, but took on administrative jobs in Rome and at the Latin American bishops’ conference in Colombia.
In 2002, the Vatican office for bishops asked the Schoenstatt Fathers to take him into one of its houses, apparently because of abuse allegations. He has been living in Germany since then but last year a new, formal accusation was received by the Vatican about an alleged case of abuse that happened in Germany in 2004.
The Schoenstatt Fathers said Saturday that the Vatican had asked that Cox remain in their custody. The order said it would cooperate with the justice system, given that victims in Chile have made criminal complaints against him.
“We receive this news with much shame for the damage caused to the victims,” the community said. “We show solidarity with them and their profound suffering. Today more than ever, we deplore every act of abuse that offends the dignity of people.”
Given the favor that Cox enjoyed in John Paul’s inner circle, his fall is yet another stain on John Paul’s legacy. It also calls into question the senior Schoenstatt cardinal in Chile, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, an advisor to Francis who has long been accused of covering up for abusers.
Ordenes Fernandez, 53, for his part, was made bishop of Iquique, in northern Chile, in 2006 at the young age of 42. He retired six years later for what were described as health reasons. But subsequently allegations of abuse were leveled against him.
Previously, the Vatican has rarely, if ever, announced laicizations of individual priests and issued only a single-line statement if a bishop had resigned, without further explanation.
Before Francis’ papacy began in 2013, it was Vatican practice to reveal if resignations were retirements because of age or some other “grave” reason that made a bishop or priest unfit for office. But Francis early on removed even that minimum amount of information.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Saturday’s more detailed statement suggested a new trend in the way the Vatican will announce the results of investigations of bishops accused of abuse. A similarly detailed statement was issued when Francis defrocked Chile’s most notorious abuser, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, last month.