MEXICO CITY – The Roman Catholic Church began investigating four Mexican bishops last May for allegedly covering up cases of pederasty, the Vatican's representative in Mexico said.
Nuncio Franco Coppola said the inquiries were part of measures put in place recently to end “the culture of silence and fear” surrounding sexual abuse in the church.
Priests abusing minors in Mexico was a long-running problem, but until Pope Francis laid out new guidance last spring it wasn't clear how to handle the issue of the cover-ups, which proved more complicated than looking into the actual cases of abuse, Coppola said in an interview Wednesday.
Efforts to hide abuse is cited by victims and experts as the reason the church still has not gotten to the bottom of the problem that has stained the church's reputation around the world.
Later this month, an investigative team from the Vatican is to visit Mexico to meet with bishops, religious leaders and victims to collect information about cases of clerical abuse. Last year, the issue resurfaced as more victims of the Legion of Christ religious order came forward.
Coppola declined to predict the results of the visit.
But he emphasized that Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the deputy secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu “are not coming to judge anyone, they aren't judges.” He said they are coming only to make recommendations and collect information.
“What's important to us is finding all of the assailants,” and those who covered up the abuse, Coppola said.
One of the goals, he said, is to address the “lack of understanding” that exists among “a minority of the bishops” who still do not understand that pederasty “is not the same thing as a priest falling in love” and therefore can't be dealt with in the same way, such as moving the priest to another place.
But perhaps the most important part will be listening to the victims, something the Mexican bishops recognize that they need to improve, Coppola said.
He said his case meeting with Ana Lucía Salazar, the woman who set off the latest wave of accusations last year by telling of how she was abused as a girl by the director of a Legion of Christ school, “helped me understand that there was a problem.”
Coppola in December opened an email account to allow abuse victims to contact him directly and after a month of silence they began to arrive. So far, he has received dozens, most related to covering up abuses and related to the Legion of Christ, he said.
He said the church has no problem cooperating with authorities if necessary and noted that since May it has been obligatory to inform them. He said it has done so 83 times, though that didn't mean investigations were opened in all of them.