VATICAN CITY — All 34 of Chile’s Roman Catholic bishops offered their resignations on Friday over a child sexual abuse scandal, and asked forgiveness for the “pain they caused the victims, the pope, the people of God, and our country for the grave errors and omissions we committed.”
The mass resignation — the first of its kind, according to the Vatican — came after Pope Francis accused the bishops at an emergency meeting this week of failing to investigate complaints, allowing evidence to be destroyed, and covering up for abusive priests by moving them from place to place. He said the systemic failures had left him “perplexed and ashamed.”
Outrage over the scandal has shaken the church for years, but it was stirred anew in January when Pope Francis publicly defended Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, whom he appointed to the Diocese of Osorno in 2015. Bishop Barros had been accused of ignoring and covering up the repeated abuse of minors by the Chilean priest Fernando Karadima.
The fallout prompted the pope to assign two investigators, who took the testimony of 64 people and produced a damning 2,300-page report on clerical sexual abuses in Chile and attempts to conceal the activity. The report detailed widespread failings on the part of the church hierarchy, and led to this week’s three-day meeting of the bishops at the Vatican.
The pope may accept or reject the resignations individually, though it was not immediately clear when that would happen. Bishop Luis Fernando Ramos Pérez, general secretary of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference, said the men would remain in their positions until the pope made his decisions.
Bishop Barros was among those who offered to resign. Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for Osorno’s Lay Organization, which organized protests against him, said on Friday that Bishop Barros should be the first to be let go, “hopefully as soon as possible.”
“Today’s announcement was a surprise, given what we saw this week — bishops smiling and acting like they were on a spiritual retreat,” Mr. Claret said. But the crisis was “far from over,” he added, and would only be put to rest once the pope made his decisions. He said the results of the Vatican investigation should be “turned over to a court of justice.”
Juan Carlos Cruz, whose accusations helped lead to Father Karadima’s prosecution, said on Friday that the mass resignation was “an enormous victory for survivors of abuse all over the world.”
Bishops had been warned, he said, that they would “no longer be able to hide behind secrecy and darkness, blaming victims and making them feel guilty. The focus will now be on the victims, as it should be.”
In a document the Vatican prepared for this week’s meeting, the pope took direct aim at Chilean church leaders, whom he accused of “grave negligence” in protecting “vulnerable children.”
The document was made public on Thursday by Canal 13 television in Chile, and was confirmed as authentic by the Vatican on Friday. It cited liberally from the report by the two investigators, the Rev. Charles J. Scicluna and the Rev. Jordi Bertomeu.
In the document, Francis said the bishops had failed to investigate claims of sexual abuse even when there was clear evidence crimes had been committed. He accused the bishops of moving priests accused of misconduct from diocese to diocese, even into positions “that imply daily and direct contact with minors.”
In one note, Francis accused the bishops of allowing “compromising documents” to be destroyed, and of “demonstrating an absolute lack of respect for the canonical procedure.” The pope said he was “perplexed and ashamed.”
The situation was so serious, Francis said, that removing people from their positions would not be enough. “It would be a serious omission on our part not to delve into the roots” of what had happened in Chile, he said, and discover “the dynamics that made it possible for such attitudes and evils to occur.”
In their statement on Friday, the bishops noted the victims’ “perseverance and their courage, despite the personal, spiritual, social and familial difficulties they had to face, often accompanied by incomprehension and the attacks of the ecclesiastical community.” The Rev. Juan Ignacio González, the bishop of San Bernardo, read the statement, signed by all the bishops, at a news conference in Rome.
Neither he nor Bishop Ramos answered questions from reporters.
“This really makes history, with a whole hierarchy remitting their resignation to the pope,” said Gerard O’Connell, a journalist who has long covered the Vatican. “It clearly shows that they have understood the determination of the pope to deal in a decisive and clear way with abuse, not just sexual but also of power and conscience.”
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