Chilean cardinal was force for national reconciliation

By Catholic News Service

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) -- Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz Ossa of Santiago has stressed national reconciliation in efforts to address human rights violations.


The cardinal, 71, a member of the Schonstatt Fathers, was one of several Latin Americans mentioned as a possible candidate for the papacy.

In early 2000, he convinced the nation's bishops to allow Chilean priests to become available to listen to anyone having information regarding the fate of people who disappeared during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Because of this initiative, many people provided key information that led to the discovery of at least three clandestine cemeteries.

After the unearthing of a cemetery in the northern city of Iquique, he said, "Our task as pastors is not to encourage revenge and hate, but the ways that will bring a closure in national reconciliation, which requires justice and forgiveness."

That position, however, has drawn criticism from some human rights advocates. In 2001, Cardinal Errazuriz suggested that lawsuits against Pinochet and some other defendants in human rights cases be dropped, saying "excessive justice could be detrimental to reconciliation and social peace."

A group of prominent Chilean Catholics sent him a letter protesting "the idea that justice in Chile could be excessive in cases of crimes that destroyed human rights."

The human rights arena is not the only policy area in which Cardinal Errazuriz has been vocal. He has also opposed distribution of the morning-after pill and a law passed in December 2004 that legalized divorce.

In 2002, Cardinal Errazuriz lodged a protest with the government after Catholics received an e-mail message saying they should not declare their religion in the April census if they did not go to Mass on Sunday or meet other requirements.

The cardinal said the effort was part of a "campaign to make the church seem weak" at a time when it was opposing government policies. A government official was fired as a result of the cardinal's protest.

Pope John Paul II named the Santiago archbishop a cardinal in 2001. At the time, the Santiago daily El Mercurio praised his ability "to promote consensus and dialogue among all sectors in the country."

On April 24, 1998, when the cardinal was still bishop of Valparaiso, the Vatican announced that Pope John Paul had appointed him to Santiago, after Cardinal Carlos Oviedo Cavada retired for health reasons.

"The task of helping heal the wounds of a society deeply divided because of human rights violations during the government of Pinochet has been offered to a man regarded as a reconciler," wrote the Chilean newspaper Epoca at his appointment.

Cardinal Errazuriz earned the image after he was appointed, in 1990, as secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

He had to deal with the conflict between the Latin American bishops' council, known as CELAM, and the Latin American Conference of Religious, known as CLAR, which several bishops regarded as too heavily influenced by liberation theology.

Cardinal Errazuriz called on CLAR to make deep reforms in its most controversial programs, but resisted pressures to disband it and create another organization.

He was elected president of CELAM in 2003, after serving a term as first vice president. In media interviews after his election, he voiced concern about poverty, corruption and poor governance in Latin America, as well as the impact of free trade agreements and free-market economic policies.

Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa was born Sept. 5, 1933, to a Catholic family in Santiago. His mother, Marta Ossa, was the president of the committee that restored a national Marian shrine.

He studied at a school run by German Verbites, then attended the Catholic University of Santiago, where he graduated as a mathematician in 1953.

After joining the German-born Marian movement, Schonstatt, he studied philosophy and theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and on July 16, 1961, he was ordained a priest.

In 1965, when Pope Paul VI approved the Secular Institute of Schonstatt, he became its first superior in Chile, Spain and Ecuador.

In 1971, he was elected superior general of the institute and moved to Germany for almost 16 years.

While serving at the Vatican, in 1990 he was granted the personal title of archbishop. Pope John Paul named him bishop of Valparaiso in September 1996, and less than two years later archbishop of Santiago.

During his installation at Santiago's cathedral, Cardinal Errazuriz committed himself to "work for the reconciliation of the Chilean family, to help, as a shepherd, in finding ways for dialogue, consensus, justice and forgiveness."

On Nov. 21, 1998, the Chilean bishops elected him president of the national bishops' conference.


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