All 34 of Chile’s Catholic bishops have submitted their written resignations to the Vatican in the latest fallout from a major child sex abuse scandal rocking the South American nation.
The unprecedented move puts the bishops’ fate in the hands of Pope Francis, who can either accept the resignations or reject them. The clerics announced their decision to resign en masse at a Vatican news conference on Friday.
“Thank you to the victims, for their perseverance and their bravery, despite the enormous personal spiritual, social, and family difficulties they’ve had to face so many times, amidst the incomprehension and the attacks from the ecclesial community itself,” the bishops wrote in their resignation letter.
The breadth and global magnitude of the Catholic Church’s ongoing child sex abuse scandal is forcing officials to reconcile their association with an institution that has systemically allowed these horrendous acts to go on for decades, often without any consequences for the perpetrators.
The heinous nature of the accusations in Chile contributed to the Vatican’s decision to conduct a full-scale investigation of dioceses, seminaries, and religious orders in the South American nation.
A similar investigation was ordered after a 2010 summit when Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, summoned Irish bishops over their horrendous record dealing with abuse.
The Vatican investigation found that Rev. Fernando Karadima, from Chile, committed a series of child sexual abuse that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. The case was never prosecuted under criminal law, and Karadima, now 87, lives in a nursing home in Chile.
Karadima’s protégé, Bishop Juan Barros, has been accused of complicity in covering up Karadima’s abuse and allowing his behavior to go unpunished. Francis supported Barros against the criticism and angered Chileans during a January trip to the country when he said the accusations against Barros were “calumny” and said he was “certain” he was innocent.
Francis, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, changed his tune after he received a report written by two Vatican sex crimes experts sent to Chile to get a handle on the problem. Last week, the pope admitted he had made “grave errors in judgment” in the case of Barros, who allegedly witnessed Karadima committing the abuse.
In their resignation letter, the bishops, including Barros, expressed contrition for their behavior, saying they “especially ask for forgiveness for the pain caused to the victims, the pope, the People of God and the country for our grave errors and omissions.”
According to the Vatican’s investigation, the scandal goes much further than Karadima’s conduct and Barros’ role in covering it up. Other Chilean priests who engaged in sexual abuse of children were transferred to other dioceses, instead of being turned into the police.
The gravity of their actions was “minimized” and attributed to “simple weakness or lack of morality,” Francis said this week.
Of the 34 bishops who traveled to Rome, three are retired, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, former Archbishop of Santiago, who has been accused of covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse, Crux Catholic Media reported Friday.
An estimated 54 percent of Chileans belong to the Catholic Church, 14 percent to Protestant or Evangelical churches, and 7 percent to any other religions, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Plaza Publica Cadem. The remaining 25 percent are atheists, agnostics, or people who do not identify with any religion.
Pope Benedict XV was harshly criticized for his handling of child sex abuse claims against Catholic clergy. During his eight-year papacy, Benedict struggled to handle the flood of disclosures of crimes and abuse rampant for decades within the church.
Benedict’s native country of Germany, along with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria, were hit by clerical sex-abuse scandals during his time as pope. Benedict’s predecessor, the long-serving Pope John Paull II, faced major sex abuse scandal in the United States and Ireland.
Francis’s visit to Chile in January was the first visit by a pope to the country since John Paull II visited in 1987, when Gen. Augusto Pinochet still ruled the country with an iron fist. Several churches in Chile were firebombed prior to Francis’ visit. No one was injured in the firebombings, which caused only minor damage.
The National Catholic Reporter, a well-respected independent magazine, published an opinion piece in January that noted “the overwhelming consensus in the media is that Pope Francis has a blind spot when it comes to sexual abuse.”
“He may be on the side of refugees, migrants, the sick, the poor, the indigenous and other marginalized peoples, but he just doesn’t get it when it comes to victims of abuse,” Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a columnist for Religion News Service, wrote in the opinion piece.
The evidence for this assertion, Reese wrote, is the pope’s unwavering support for Barros, despite the accusations from victims that he witnessed and covered up abuse by Karadima.
“The status quo is not working. Pope Francis needs to make dramatic changes in the way in which the Vatican investigates crimes, especially those by bishops,” he concluded.