Chilean bishops offer to quit over sex-abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY•• • All 34 of Chile‘s Roman Catholic bishops have offered their resignations over a child sexual abuse scandal, and asked forgiveness for the “pain they caused the victims, the Pope, the people of God, and the country for the grave errors and omissions they committed”.

The mass resignation on Friday – the first of its kind, according to the Vatican – came after Pope Francis accused the bishops at an emergency meeting last 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, the south-central Chilean city, in 2015.

Bishop Barros had been accused of ignoring and covering up the repeated abuse of minors by 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 last 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 Perez, 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. Mr Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for Osorno‘s lay organisation, which organised protests against him, said on Friday that Bishop Barros should be the first to be let go, “hopefully as soon as possible”.

But the crisis was “far from over”, he added, and would be put to rest only once the Pope made his decisions. He said the results of the Vatican investigation should be “turned over to a court of justice”.

One of the survivors of the abuse, Mr Juan Carlos Cruz, whose accusations helped lead to priest 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”.

In a document the Vatican prepared for last week‘s meeting, the Pope took direct aim at Chilean church leaders, whom he accused of “grave negligence” in protecting “vulnerable children”.

The document, made public last Thursday by Canal 13 television in Chile, was confirmed as authentic by the Vatican the next day.

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”.

Reverend Juan Ignacio Gonzalez, 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.

NYTIMES