Chile's press finally finds its voice
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IN NOVEMBER OF 2002, the Catholic Church announced that the former bishop of the city of La Serena, Francicso Javier Cox, "had retired from pastoral activity" to focus on study and reflection in Colombia.
In the years since, the press contented itself with recounting the story while letting exploration of the whys slip to the background, mostly out of pure timidity. Over time the truth has come out that, in fact, Cox was separated from his duties due to charges of sexual abuses of minors. But this revelation was due more to rumor than to diligent reporting.
Daily papers and television stations never bothered to give any real space to the charges, nor to the details surrounding them. And no institution of public information troubled itself to demand that the case be brought to a court of law. But nine years on from that announcement, the situation has changed radically.
Just two weeks ago, the Episcopal Conference, consisting of 30 bishops, made public its new protocol, which will govern the Catholic Church's actions in confronting charges against the Church hierarchy. Changes include shorter terms for investigating charges and the creation of commissions that will ensure that victims receive psychological and spiritual assistance.
Something had to give, because in Chile as in other parts of the world, damning charges have besmirched many officials, even the former archbishop of Santiago, Francisco Javier Errázuriz. The archbishop was accused on a TV program of having stalled the investigation against Fernando Karadima, whose parish produced five sitting bishops and many more priests. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in February for instances of abuse. Errázuriz, meanwhile, received those initial complaints against Karadima but filed them away.
After years of media silence, the press has recently decided to track these latest developments in great detail. The simple reality is that the religious environment in Chile is changing. The shift in media culture is only the latest evidence of a wider cultural shift.
Agnosticism is on the rise. From 4% in the 1992 census, agnostics accounted for 16% of the population in 2002. Chileans are awaiting a national census in 2012, and it is certain that the rate will jump once again.
In plain terms, even though 70% of Chileans identify as Catholic, the Catholic Church on longer enjoys the respect it enjoyed in the past. The press is starting to expose the Church's many strategies to protect its priests from prosecution by shipping them from new locations where they persisted in the very same patterns of bad behavior.
Two key symbolic cases have earned profuse coverage in the national press. Sor Paula, a nun and religious leader who headed an exclusive high school in Santiago, was accused of "dishonest abuses" against female students. The second case involved a parish priest who was condemned to 15 years in prison for videotaping himself raping minors and then posting the video on the internet.