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Experts provide insight into specific abuse dynamics in Latin America

ROME – On Tuesday, a group of experts presented a new compendium of abuse cases in Latin America, a region with the highest percentage of Catholics in the world, offering an analysis of some of the most striking cases to draw attention to global attention in recent decades.

Titled “Abuse in the Latin American Church: An Evolving Crisis at the Heart of Catholicism,” the volume was released in April and includes contributions from leading experts from various fields who assess the nature of abuse in Latin America given of its social and cultural context. , as well as information on pathways to justice and healing for victims.

The book was written by Latin American theologians Dr. Véronique Lecaros and Dr. Ana Lourdes Suárez.

Lecaros is professor of theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and since 2021 has directed the Listening Commission of the Archdiocese of Lima for victims of abuse in the ecclesial environment. Suárez is professor of social theory at the Catholic University of Argentina.

Among the most notable contributors to this book is German Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, former member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) and director of the Institute of Anthropology in Rome: Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Dignity and care.

Others include Dr Rocío Figueroa, professor of systematic theology at Auckland Catholic Theological College and a former member of the association’s women’s branch based in Peru. Sodalitium Christianae Vitaecurrently under investigation by the Vatican, and Dr David Tombs, professor of theology and public issues at the University of Otago, as well as several other experts from across Latin America.

The book is divided into four parts, with the first exploring abuses in specific Latin American contexts, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico and Uruguay.

Part two explores the discussions that have arisen in the wake of the religious abuse crisis in Latin America, while part three examines abuse within Catholic Church organizations in Latin America. Part four explores the impact of abuse and ways to restore victims while seeking justice for abusers, highlighting the need for truth, reconciliation and justice commissions in Latin America.

Lecaros, Suárez and Figueroa spoke at a virtual presentation of the book on May 28, in which Zollner participated, and which also included Monsignor Luis Manuel Ali Herrera, secretary of the PCPM, as a panelist.

Tuesday’s presentation, conducted via Zoom, was jointly organized by the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, the Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, among others.

The speakers recognized that throughout Latin America, the Catholic Church continues to occupy an important and influential position, and that it remains one of the most respected institutions, largely thanks to its social initiatives, which often fill the gaps left by “state inadequacies” in impoverished and underdeveloped places through a vast ecclesial network.

In this context, priests are often seen as holding an exalted status, with Lecaros claiming that clericalism is “one of the main causes of abuse” in Latin America due to the power that clergy tend to hold, as well as the persistent macho attitudes and perceptions they tend to hold. are the representatives of God.

“It also depends on the laity to put limits” on the power enjoyed by the clergy, Lecaros said, adding that “when an abuse of power is combined with a feeling of impunity,” the door to sexual abuse is wide open.

Likewise, Suárez provided an overview of the book’s structure and highlighted significant abuse cases that have occurred in Latin America in recent decades and covered in the volume.

These cases include the scandals surrounding the late Father Marciel Maciel Degollado and the Legionaries of Christ in Mexico; former priest Fernando Karadima in Chile; the layman Luis Fernando Figari and the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) in Peru, as well as Father João Scognamiglio Clá Dias and his group “Heralds of the Gospel” in Brazil.

Each of these attackers founded groups composed of elitists distinguished by class and racial exclusion, gaining prominence through social initiatives that obtained financial support from influential actors, while imposing a form of authoritarian governance and activist to their members.

Suárez noted that while other countries have made progress in conducting national investigations into religious abuse and publishing in-depth reports in recent years, Latin America has been “very slow,” with the exception of Chile, where massive scandals in 2018 prompted the entire bishops’ conference to submit their resignations to the pope.

By exploring specific cases and analyzing discussions that have arisen about the abuse crisis, Suárez said the book can help “better understand the problem” and identify best practices for the future.

She said she hopes the book will help raise awareness and encourage victims to come forward, because “it is impossible to know” the reality in its entirety “without the victims of abuse who, little by little, stop being silent.”

“In the future, we want this book to inspire many victims who have been silenced, who have not spoken out, to trust that they have the right to speak and seek justice and reparation,” he said. she declared.

Speaking specifically about Chile’s abuse crisis, Dr. Eduardo Balenzuela, professor at the Faculty of Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, reflected on the impact of the scandals surrounding Karadima and the missteps of the church hierarchy in this case and in others on Chilean society.

Among other things, he added, the scandals were a shock that caused a “massive loss of confidence in religious institutions”, due not only to the abuses, but also to the mismanagement of them by the ‘Church.

Although punitive measures have been taken against some priests, little has been done to redress the victims, he said, noting that many young people, in particular, have disaffiliated from the Church and followed a cultural trend broader consisting of losing faith and trust in the Church. establishments.

Young people “have not stopped believing, they have stopped feeling like they belong,” he said, calling it “a crisis of belonging that still affects our Church.”

Figueroa emphasized in his remarks that only recently has abuse been understood as a crime in the Church rather than a sin, and that in most Latin American contexts, support for resolving the scandals does not come from the Church itself or government investigations, but from the Church. civilian population itself.

It can often be difficult to speak out against the Church in Latin America because of “the alliance between religious communities and political institutions…they have had and still have strong ties and mutual protection.”

Figueroa also lamented that there are many bishops, clergy, religious and laity in Latin America who still do not want to talk about the issue of abuse and stressed the importance of allowing victims to be heard.

She also highlighted the need to address the broader dynamics of abuse of power and conscience in the Church and its links to sexual abuse, particularly abuse against nuns, which has often not been “no power” in the Church and are subject to justice. the authority of a patriarchal system.

Although the Church has made significant progress in dealing with child sexual abuse in recent decades, “not as much has been done regarding abuse against young people and women,” she said. asserting that power is deferential between them and the clergy in the Church. » it is impossible to feel free.

Only recently has abuse against nuns become a topic of discussion, she said, pointing out that cases such as the notorious alleged abuse of Father Marko Rupnik, which is currently the subject of a canonical investigation after he was accused of abusing around 30 adult women, most of whom were nuns, helped shed light on the problem.

“Most nuns have been victims of abuse of power by priests and superiors,” said Figueroa, a former SCV member, insisting that abuse of power and conscience are “part of sexual abuse “.

Particularly given the high number of nuns in Latin America, she said, the problem of mistreatment of women in the Church must be addressed as “a systematic problem.”

Women, she said, serve in a “patriarchal environment” and are often treated as “second class” and therefore not encouraged to grow and mature “in their own autonomy.” They are also accustomed to serving in a “clerical structure” that can at times be exploitative and dominant.

“It is necessary to focus on this group, because nuns do great work within the Church,” Figureroa said, lamenting that even after so many allegations, Rupnik remains a priest without any punitive measures. ‘has been taken against him until now.

Ali, in his speech, offered an overview of the work of the PCPM, particularly in developing countries through its Memory program providing grants to safeguarding initiatives in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“Awareness of abuses in the Catholic Church in Latin America and their repercussions does not have a long history,” he said, noting that it is only in the last decade that the victims began to be heard and that listening and investigation commissions were created. established.

The abuse crisis is not new, he said, saying that cases revealed in recent decades “must be analyzed”, with particular assessment of the cultural, social and political factors of abuse in Latin America and In the Caribbean. “Clericalism in Latin America.”

Ali said that the reflection proposed in the book is “only the beginning of a painful process that the Church in Latin America is going through”, aimed at purification and reparation in order to make the Church “a safer place for all of us.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on X: @eliseannallen