Thirty-four Chilean bishops have resigned together over the Catholic child sex abuse scandals.
The unprecedented move — which saw the entire Chilean church leadership offer to step down — came shortly after a meeting with Pope Francis over the scale of sexual abuse and its cover-up in Chile. It is to date the most significant formal acceptance of responsibility for abuse by members of the church hierarchy anywhere in the world.
While child sex abuse scandals have dogged the Catholic Church worldwide, the scandal in Chile centers on the figure of Rev. Fernando Karadima. In 2011, a Vatican investigation found Karadima guilty of a series of child sexual abuse that took place throughout the 1970s and ’80s. (The case was never prosecuted under criminal law, and Karadima, now 87, lives in a nursing home in Chile.) A number of critics have accused Karadima’s protégé, Bishop Juan Barros, of being complicit in the abuse by covering for Karadima and allowing his behavior to go unpunished.
The mass resignation appears to be an acknowledgment that the Chilean church — which has consistently defended Barros and maintained his innocence — is accepting responsibility for wrongdoing.
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.” They continued, “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. … Once again, we implore their forgiveness and help to continue moving forward in the path of healing and cauterization of the wounds.”
This expression of responsibility is an about-face for the Vatican. Last year, Francis appeared to dismiss the accusations against Barros, garnering worldwide criticism for discounting them as “slander.” Since then, however, Francis has apologized — both for his remarks and for the church’s inaction more generally — and has met with survivors of Karadima’s abuse.
Earlier this week, Francis met with several Chilean bishops at the Vatican and reportedly expressed his displeasure with how the case was being handled. In a document circulated to attendees, and later leaked to the press, he accused the bishops of downplaying the gravity of Karadima’s crimes and transferring Karadima and other priests to other parishes in order to minimize the scandal. The church had an obligation, he said, to “help find the light to adequately treat an open wound, one which hurts and is complex, and which for a long time hasn’t stopped bleeding in the lives of so many people, and as such, in the life of the People of God.”
The pope has not yet formally accepted the bishops’ resignations.