Fr Jorge Hourton: Priest who fought for human rights in Chile

 

Jorge Hourton, one of the few survivors of a generation of leading Latin American Catholics unequivocally committed to social justice and the fight against the region's scandalous inequalities, died in the southern Chilean city of Temuco where, until his retirement in 2001, he had been Auxiliary Bishop.

Although he was often ignored in Chile, his words sound sharp and relevant after his death.

Born in 1926 at Saubusse, a village near the French town of Dax, he and his six siblings were taken by their parents from Depression-stricken Europe to a new life in Chile. He decided to become a priest, going to study at the Angelicum in Rome. He was ordained to the Santiago diocese in 1949, two years before his younger brother Mauricio. Both young priests threw themselves into work for the capital's poorest.

Jorge was seen as episcopal material and at the early age of 42 was ordained Auxiliary Bishop of the southern diocese of Puerto Montt. Raul Silva, Archbishop of Santiago, later Cardinal, who knew him well, appointed him his auxiliary in 1974 within months of the start of General Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror. Hourton, the immigrant's son, stood alongside Sergio Valech, son of a wealthy Levantine family and another recently appointed auxiliary. Together they backed Silva, the son of peasants, as he defied the military dictatorship and refused to be silenced on matters of human rights.

Soft-spoken and owlish behind his large spectacles, Hourton was never shy in proclaiming his view of justice. In 1977 he gathered with 20 other Latin American bishops in the Colombian capital to deliver a blast against regimes which adduced "national security" to justify West-approved campaigns of terror and the use of death squads. The document on non-violence was prepared for the 1979 meeting of Latin American bishops in Puebla. In words which resonate today the group declared that subversive acts, which he condemned, could not justify "the total suppression of many constitutional guarantees and numerous human rights and the climate of insecurity generated by measures presented as a guarantee of security".

In 1983 his former colleague Valech informed Father Ronaldo Muñoz that episcopal approval had been withdrawn from Pastoral Popular, a radical journal he was editing. Hourton, alone of the Chilean bishops, wrote a letter of support to Muñoz. His willingness to speak out on matters which others were keen to sweep under the carpet did not endear him to all his fellow bishops. Unsurprisingly, he never progressed beyond the rank of an auxiliary and his later appointment as helper to the Bishop of the remote southern city of Temuco was seen as a method of marginalising him.

Nevertheless in the 1990s his presence in Temuco allowed him to be active on behalf of the native Mapuche, Pehuenche and Huilliche people as they started to protest against their marginalisation in Chile's deeply racist society. On the 20th anniversary of the murder in 1976 of Bishop Enrique Angelelli of the Argentine city of La Rioja by the dictatorship of General Jorge Videla, Hourton attended a memorial service for him in his former diocese.

In 1998 Hourton accompanied the Lutheran bishop Helmut Frenz, who had been expelled from Chile in 1975 by Pinochet, to Madrid, where they both gave evidence to Judge Manuel García Castellón, who was seeking to bring the former dictator to justice.

Hourton was always a reformer, conscious of the gap between the church in all its formality and the ordinary worshipper. He said, "The organised pastoral activity that we bishops and priests organise gets to only a small group of people and it has little 'bite' even with them. On balance, it seems there is no proportion between the plans, committees, staff, resources and time on the one hand, and the results on the other." He was comprehensively slighted by civil and church hierarchies till his death, as exemplified by the long periods of absence of any reference to him on the website of the Catholic University of Temuco, whose rector he was for many years.

He resigned his auxiliary bishopric on 21 September 2001. Shortly before, he joined with other distinguished Chileans – such as the writer Ariel Dorfman, Roser Bru, the artist previously married to Pablo Neruda, the film maker Miguel Littin as well as church people and scholars – in a detailed criticism of a society in which, the privatisation of the cliques around the Pinochets was leading to immense concentrations of wealth which often made companies effectively independent of government. It castigated quasi-monopolies in such businesses as insurance, pension provision, the paper industry and privatised water (more than 80 per cent of Chileans have to buy water expensively from foreign suppliers). "It is false that all public-sector activity is inefficient and all private-sector activity is efficient," the document said.

Jorge Hourton, priest: born Saubusse, France 27 May 1926; ordained 1949;Auxiliary Bishop of Puerto Montt 1969-74; Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago 1974-2001; retired as Auxiliary Bishop of Temuco 2001; died Temuco, Chile 5 December 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Soft Developer (4.0, C#, Windows Services, Sockets, LINQ, WCF)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer (4.0, C#, Windows ...

C# Developer -Winforms, VB6 - Trading Systems - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading financial software house with its He...

C #Programmer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#) -Hertfordshire-Finance

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C #Developer (.Net 4.0/4.5/ C#, A...

JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Woking

£1 per annum: Harrington Starr: JQuery Developer JQuery, UI, Tomcat, Java - Tr...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home