Jaime Coiro, spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Chile, and at his right, Ana Maria Celis, member of the National Council of the Chilean Church for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims, during a press conference in Santiago on July 23, 2018. (Photo by Claudio Reyes/AFP)

Chile’s Catholic bishops have appointed Ana Maria Celis Brunet, an experienced lawyer and theologian, to lead the fight against clerical sexual abuse in her new role as president of the National Council of the Chilean Church for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims.

Pope Francis received Brunet, a specialist in canon law and the law of religions, in an audience at St. Martha House in the Vatican on Aug. 10, just a few days after her appointment.

“The objective of the meeting was to inform and exchange opinions on the measures taken in Chile to deal with cases of abuse and to stop them from re-occurring,” a Holy See Press Office statement read.

“A significant part of the conversation dealt with the suffering of victims and their need for comfort and compensation,” the statement said.

Continuing to clarify

The meeting provides yet another indicator of Pope Francis’ desire to take an interest in “each step of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference,” the statement said.

It also illustrates “his desire to continue to clarify all the issues in order for a just response to be provided to each person.”

The 32 Chilean bishops made the decision to appoint Brunet during their Extraordinary General Assembly at Punta de Tralca in central Chile at the beginning of August.

It followed a series of revelations of sexual abuse committed by priests as well as a cover up by the church hierarchy.

In May, Brunet’s predecessor, Bishop Alejandro Goic Karmelic of Rancagua in central Chile, was forced to resign from the commission, which was created by the Chilean bishops in 2011.

In another sign of the depth of the Chilean Church’s crisis, Bishop Karmelic also became mired in the sexual abuse scandal in his own diocese.

Ending clericalism

Brunet obtained a doctorate in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome for a thesis on civil marriage.

An associate professor at the Catholic University of Chile, Brunet also practices church law in the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Santiago.

Her appointment also illustrates Pope Francis’ desire to end “clericalism,” which he says has damaged the church and caused an explosion of sexual abuse cases.

Director of the Center for Law and Religion at the Catholic University of Chile, founded in 2005 to study the relationship between the church and states and to promote religious freedom, Brunet was secretary and later president (2013-2016) of the Latin American Consortium on Religious Freedom.

Since 2016, she has been president of the International Consortium on Studies on Law and Religion.

Meanwhile, the Chilean Parliament is envisaging withdrawing Chilean nationality from Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, an Italian by birth who was naturalized in 2006.

Chilean nationality “was bestowed for his contribution to the country as a religious, particularly in the field of education.”

“We now know that that is no longer valid because he did not support [the abused] children,” Opposition Senator Ximena Rincon said.

Like many other Chilean bishops, Cardinal Ezzati is accused of having covered up sexual abuse by priests.