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Fresh allegations cloud pope's appointment of Chilean Church leader

In a case that appears to cast doubt on Francis' judgement in appointing him to replace Chile's top prelate Ricardo Ezzati, Spanish bishop Celestino Aos was forced to deny allegations from two sex abuse victims that he covered up for their abuser.

Tuesday 26 March, 2019
Pope Francis arrives in Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
Pope Francis arrives in Piazza Armerina, Sicily. Foto:AP/Andrew Medichini

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Pope Francis's pick to replace Chile's top cardinal – who has been dismissed over allegations of covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse – was on Monday forced to deny that he himself had covered up the crimes of predator priests.

In a case that appears to cast doubt on Francis' judgement in appointing him to replace Chile's top prelate Ricardo Ezzati, Spanish bishop Celestino Aos was forced to deny allegations from two sex abuse victims that he covered up for their abuser.

One of the victims, former seminarian Mauricio Pulgar, publicly slammed Aos' appointment on Monday, saying he had dismissed his complaints in 2012.

"Naming a person who helped cover up sexual assault, I think this is the worst mistake that the pope could make this year," said Pulgar.

Aos, in an interview on Chile's Radio Cooperativa, denied "absolutely" any cover-up in the case.

The allegations against Aos date from when he was bishop in Valparaiso, where he acted as the Church's promoter of justice, a role akin to a prosecutor, investigating abuse cases.  

He was accused by the abuse victims of denigrating their claims against a local priest, Jaime Da Fonseca, whom he cleared. Da Fonseca was found guilty in a subsequent investigation by the Vatican and expelled from the priesthood last year.

"The promoter of justice at that time had a well-defined delimitation of responsibilities. I fulfilled them as I thought best, and the promoter of justice does not decide the sentence," said Aos, who until his sudden elevation by Francis on Saturday, had been bishop of Copiapo in northern Chile.

Pulgar said that Aos had never given any credence to his allegations of abuse. 

"During the investigation, he did not consider them likely, and he didn't inform me of his conclusions. He never gave me the opportunity to present evidence, or witnesses," Pulgar told Radio Cooperativo.

To date, 77-year-old Ezzati, who was the Catholic Church's highest official in Chile, has insisted he is innocent. He has promised to cooperate with the investigation into his activities – if the authorities first clear him.

He presented his resignation to the pope in May 2018 along with all of Chile's 34 bishops – including Aos. So far, the pontiff has accepted seven of the resignations.

The decision over Ezzati was made after Chile's court of appeal on Friday confirmed he would face trial for not calling out sexual abuse by three priests, one of whom was his close aide.

Chile is one of the countries most caught up in the widening scandal of sexual wrongdoing by priests. 

The Argentine pontiff was accused of not taking appropriate steps after a controversial visit he made in January 2018. 

Afterwards, Francis listened more attentively to Chilean victims and made an apology before summoning all of Chile's bishops to the Vatican in May 2018 for discussions that led to their resignation letters.

- AFP

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