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In 1983 his former colleague Valech informed Father Ronaldo Muñoz that episcopal approval had been withdrawn from Pastoral Popular, a radical journal he was editing.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.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?