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All 31 active Chilean bishops join in mass resignation

May 18, 2018

All 31 active members of the Chilean Catholic bishops’ conference have submitted their resignations to Pope Francis.

The stunning move, announced on May 18, comes after the Chilean bishops spent three days in Rome, meeting with the Pontiff, to discuss the sex-abuse scandal in their country.

In announcing their willingness to resign, the Chilean bishops said that they had offered freely to step down and had left their future status “in the hands of the Holy Father,” allowing the Pope to decide which bishops should be removed. The bishops thanked the Pope for his “fraternal correction” and offered their apologies to the victims of sexual abuse.

The unprecedented mass resignation follows a series of events that caused mounting tensions within the Church in Chile: the 2011 conviction of Father Fernando Karadima, a highly influential priest, on abuse charges; the Pope’s 2015 decision to promote Bishop Juan Barros, a prelate with close ties to Karadima; and the Pope’s own public statements that criticism of Bishop Barros was based only on “unfounded allegations of leftists.”

The controversy reached a peak in January, when the Pontiff visited Chile, and responded to questions by saying that he had never received evidence of wrongdoing or negligence by Bishop Barros. That public statement by the Pope was called into question when one of Karadima’s victims revealed that he had sent a letter to Pope Francis, explaining the bishop’s negligence; the letter was reportedly hand-delivered by Cardinal Sean O’Malley.

In answer to increasingly urgent questions, Pope Francis commissioned Archbishop Charles Scicluna, formerly the Vatican’s top sex-abuse prosecutor, to investigate the situation in Chile. After receiving a lengthy report from Archbishop Scicluna, the Pope issued an emotional apology for his handling of the matter, acknowledging “serious mistakes.” He then arranged personal meetings with some Chilean sex-abuse victims, and summoned the Chilean bishops to Rome for a thorough discussion.

In a letter made public at the conclusion of this week’s three-day meeting, the Pope thanked the Chilean bishops for their willingness “to cooperate in all the short-, medium-, and long-term changes and resolutions that we must implement.” He urged them to return home with a new commitment to build a “prophetic Church, capable of putting at the center what’s important: the service to her Lord in the hungry, the imprisoned, the migrant, the abused.”

However, in a longer letter, which leaked to the press after the meeting, the Pope used much stronger language to denounce the “absolutely reprehensible things that have happened in the Chilean Church,” citing not only sexual abuse but “unacceptable abuses of power” and a loss of “prophetic vigor.”

In this longer letter the Pope revealed that Archbishop Scicluna’s report had uncovered clear evidence of “grave negligence” among the Chilean bishops, as well as evidence that some bishops had covered up abuse and put pressure on Church officials to do the same.

“No one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others,” the Pope wrote. “We need a change,” he said. While acknowledging that the removal of some bishops would be a positive step, he wrote: “I insist, it’s not enough.”

The dramatic resignation by the entire Chilean hierarchy leaves Pope Francis in a position to write his own conclusion to the story. The most urgent question, clearly, is which resignations the Holy Father will choose to accept, and which Chilean bishops will be allowed to continue in ministry.

However, the resignations also raise new questions about how the Holy See will handle complaints about bishops’ negligence in handling sex-abuse charges. Under the guidance of Pope Francis, the Vatican created, then quietly dissolved, a special panel that would have tried bishops on such charges. Instead, the Vatican announced that accusations of negligence would be weighed by existing bodies, primarily the Congregation for Bishops. The Chilean mass resignation could skirt that process, and set no precedent for the handling for future cases in which bishops are accused of negligence.

Also, the resignation of Chile’s active bishops leaves unresolved the status of one prominent retired prelate: Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, the former Archbishop of Santiago, who remains a member of the influential Council of Cardinals. Cardinal Errazuriz—who did not attend this week’s meetings in Rome— has been charged with working to silence report by Karadima’s accusers.


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  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - May. 21, 2018 3:18 PM ET USA

    I agree with R. Spanier. Sounds like a ploy to me. Also, does “the service to her Lord in the hungry, the imprisoned, the migrant, the abused.” describe the Church’s most important mission?

  • Posted by: Retired01 - May. 19, 2018 10:57 AM ET USA

    Important question here are: why so many sexual abuse scandals in the universal Church? Are most of these scandals, like in the US, about the abuse of boys? Have most of these scandals the consequence of the use of the "hermenutics of rupture" in interpreting Vatican II?

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - May. 19, 2018 2:48 AM ET USA

    One big question is, will the Pope resign for his massive mishandling of the sex abuse situation for several years?

  • Posted by: Adeodatus109 - May. 19, 2018 1:06 AM ET USA

    I wish Diogenes were around to write about this one...

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - May. 19, 2018 1:03 AM ET USA

    After a half century of an ecclesial culture of sin denial, they still display no evidence at all that they have figured out that abandoning the very purpose for the Church's existence, the salvation of sinful souls, is not exactly the fulfillment of wisdom or the fulfillment of God's purpose on earth.

  • Posted by: R. Spanier (Catholic Canadian) - May. 18, 2018 10:19 PM ET USA

    Why would a Bishop who did NOT commit "grave negligence" for failing to combat sexual abuse against children offer his resignation? And why would a Bishop who DID commit such grave negligence merely 'offer' his resignation instead of immediately resigning for failure to lead and protect the flock committed to his care. "Tend my sheep." Jesus (John 21:16)

  • Posted by: - May. 18, 2018 8:37 PM ET USA

    To DrJazz, On the other hand, the word "bishop" means "overseer". Of course evangelization is primary, but an overseer must also plan for the future. Bishops who do not plan for the growth and care of their flocks (e.g. buying property for new parishes in growing areas) are not doing their job fully. St. John Paul II was a great evangelizer, but he "managed" poorly, in my opinion, and appointed some(!) wolves; and we are still paying the cost.

  • Posted by: pmmillison469380 - May. 18, 2018 6:47 PM ET USA

    So Francis left it in the bishops' hands to figure it out for themselves, and they threw it back on him by resigning en mass?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 18, 2018 6:06 PM ET USA

    It seems that the Chilean bishops rigidly held on to their communal pledge to deceive everyone--the Pope, laity, and world--about their active collaboration or passive complicity in this physical abuse conspiracy.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 18, 2018 5:40 PM ET USA

    Thank you very much for this detailed report.

  • Posted by: DrJazz - May. 18, 2018 12:10 PM ET USA

    I can't imagine Jesus (or any OT prophet) using the phrase, "short-, medium-, and long-term changes and resolutions." This is the language of management, not evangelization. I contend that a big part of the Church's problem is that many Bishops see themselves as regional VP's of a corporation, and see their priests as branch managers. When was the last time you saw your Bishop visit your parish? When was the last time he checked his priests' cable TV subscription status?