SANTIAGO – Saint Alberto Hurtado’s legacy is being questioned after new allegations of sexual abuse by Jesuit priest Renato Poblete. National Prosecutor Jorge Abbott suggested new lines of investigation. The investigation calls into question the image of the first Chilean saint and creator of Hogar de Cristo, one of the most important social institutions in the country.
Once again, sexual abuse by Catholic priests is in the news, this time after the Chilean Prosecutor’s Office received and investigated allegations of abuse by the late Jesuit priest, Renato Poblete, which have generated a great wave of repercussions within his congregation and in Chilean society in general. The discussion has expanded beyond Poblete and now reaches all the way back to the first Chilean saint, the famous Padre Hurtado.
It all started last Tuesday, July 30, when the Compañía de Jesús (Society of Jesus) announced the conclusions of an investigation as to allegations of sexual abuse by Poblete. The 407-page investigation report asserts that Poblete abused 22 victims, who participated in the investigation.
Details of the investigation’s findings were released last Thursday, August 1, through a press conference held by the Jesuits where Cristián del Campo, Provincial of the Compañía de Jesús, declared, “this research has shown conclusively that Renato Poblete abused repeatedly, seriously, and systematically, protected by the power granted to him as a priest.”
The report also details that for 48 years, specifically between 1960 and 2008, Poblete maintained six stable relationships, of which not all are raised as denunciations or testimonies, even so, del Campo indicated that “the investigator estimates the existence of abusive aspects in at least 5 of them.”
Two days after the press conference, del Campo attended the National Prosecutor’s Office to make official delivery of the findings, through a summary of the official report, as reported by MegaNoticias. However, the summary “does not include the names of those affected by the aggressions of the historic chaplain of el Hogar de Cristo.”
Padre Hurtado in the Spotlight
After receiving the summary, the National Prosecutor, Jorge Abbott, referred to this case and said that no line of investigation would be ruled out, which includes perhaps the other strongest image of the Jesuits in Chile, Padre Alberto Hurtado.
Public attention then immediately shifted to Hurtado, one of Chile’s strongest Catholic figures, and del Campo, on behalf of Compañia de Jesús, immediately intervened and responded, “It seems to me a speculation that is unfair. If there is a person who has been investigated for his beatification and canonization processes, in all angles of his life, he has been padre Hurtado,” as also reported by MegaNoticias.
The current social director of Hogar de Cristo, Paulo Egenau, in an interview with T13 Radio, also said that Padre Hurtado should only be investigated “if there were reasons and foundations that gave rise to a new investigative look.”
In the interview, Egenau also tried to distance Hogar de Cristo from Poblete: “the Hogar [de Cristo] is not Renato, the hogar is 4,000 plus workers, there are 6,000 members, and 26,000 volunteers. The Hogar de Cristo is on the ground, it is the social programs.”
Paulo Egenau en @Tele13_Radio “El Hogar no es Renato, el #HogardeCristo son 4 mil trabajadores, 26 mil voluntarios. Está en terreno, son los programas sociales. Ese es el corazón que late con intensidad y está sano, con ganas, brillante y con innovación” https://t.co/Grj9nzpdk8 pic.twitter.com/lcw06BtjAo
— Hogar de Cristo (@Hdecristo) August 2, 2019
The Saint of Chile
Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, better known as “Padre Hurtado,” was a Chilean Jesuit jurist and priest, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI, making him one of the most powerful Catholic figures in Chile.
Hurtado followed a religious path almost all his life, a journey that began at the Jesuit College of San Ignacio in Santiago de Chile and was confirmed in 1933 when he was ordained a priest.
In 1944, Hurtado founded el Hogar de Cristo, an institution for which he would be recognized nationally, and that was established “with the purpose of giving shelter to the homeless,” according to “Biografías y Vidas.” Because of this, he was known as “el cura de los pobres” (the priest of the poor).
Hurtado also dedicated part of his life to writing and reflecting on religion, creating books such as ¿Es Chile un país católico? (Is Chile a Catholic country?), La crisis afectiva de la adolescencia (The affective crisis of adolescence) and La crisis sacerdotal en Chile (The priestly crisis in Chile), among others.
Hurtado’s death from cancer at the age of 51 in Santiago in 1952 shocked the country; and 25 years later, the Chilean Catholic Church initiated his beatification. It was not until 1993, however, that Pope John Paul II greenlighted the process. A year later, on October 10, 1994, Hurtado was beatified.
Then, in October 2005, under Pope Benedict XVI, Hurtado became the first Chilean saint, and, since then, August 18 has been assigned his feast day (the Catholic Church assigns one day out of the year for each canonized saint, on which the saint is remembered).
Today, Hurtado’s image is under discussion and only time will tell whether his positive image as a contributor, protector, and saint will be maintained, or whether he will posthumously be added to the list of abusive priests.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.