Safety concerns have prompted Chile’s national police force to provide a security detail to guard Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago during public appearances.
A statement from the archdiocese said the national police, known as Carabineros, began providing protection to Cardinal Ezzati soon after his January appointment by the Vatican.
“Carabineros of Chile offered their services generously and for free in March 2014. The archbishop accepted it right away,” the statement said.
Church and security officials cited an anonymous telephone caller in March threatening a heckling demonstration and vandalism to the Metropolitan Cathedral caused by more than 100 demonstrators during a protest in July demanding the decriminalization of abortion as concerns that led to the decision to provide security for the cardinal.
In recent months, at least one plainclothes officer has been seen with the cardinal at most public events. At times, the cardinal has blended among the parishioners, but with an officer nearby. At other times, when traveling, the cardinal’s vehicle has been rerouted to avoid traffic jams and his security team has backup exit strategies to avoid crowds and, occasionally, even the press, police sources said.
An officer in a dark suit and wearing an earbud could be seen with Cardinal Ezzati May 28 during a visit to the Catholic University of Santiago for an ecumenical meeting with leaders from other Christian churches. The man walked with the cardinal and officials from the churches to the closed-door meeting and returned 90 minutes later when the gathering ended.
“I have this (protection) since I was named cardinal. This is not a risk,” Cardinal Ezzati told Catholic News Service after the meeting at the university.
Officials at the archdiocese said the special police protection was assigned to control potential risks of confrontation with protesters. They cited a phone call weeks after the cardinal’s Jan. 12 appointment by Pope Francis.
The cardinal’s appointment was criticized by advocates for victims of sexual abuses carried out by Father Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was ordered to “retire to a life of prayer and penitence” by the Vatican.
Church officials did not indicate whether the criticism and the call were connected.
Police sources told CNS that, besides assigning an agent to protect Cardinal Ezzati, other plainclothes policemen blend with crowds during cathedral ceremonies in an attempt to prevent episodes like the one last July.
The same sources added that, until now, Cardinal Ezzati has not canceled public activities because of the security risks.