Chilean Bishops Resign En Masse over Sex Abuse Crisis

Catholic church attendance
AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

The entire body of the Chilean Catholic bishops’ conference—34 bishops in all—submitted signed resignations to Pope Francis this week over the country’s clerical sex abuse crisis.

Two Chilean bishops announced the measure at a Vatican news conference Friday following a three-day meeting with the pope in the Vatican to discuss the massive crisis that has rocked the Chilean church.

In a written statement, the bishops thanked Francis for listening to them and for his “fraternal correction,” saying that they want to “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.”

The bishops said that their joint decision to hand in their resignations meant that “the Holy Father can freely decide on what to do with each of us.”

The bishops’ fate is now in the pope’s hands, who can either accept the resignations or reject them.

In February, a group of Chilean lay Catholics criticized Pope Francis for having publicly defended Bishop Juan Barros, who had been accused of personally engaging in sex abuse and of covering up for another sexually abusive priest in his diocese.

After this, the pope initiated a full inquiry into the abuse, which was carried out by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. The 2,300-page report of the results of the investigation led the pope to pivot from defending Barros to admitting his mistake and convoking the 34 bishops in the Vatican.

In early April, Francis acknowledged he had made “grave mistakes” in his handling of the Chilean sexual abuse scandal. He proceeded to announce he was inviting all the Chilean bishops to Rome to discuss the situation.

In the first week of May, the pope met in the Vatican with three Chilean victims of clerical sex abuse and apologized to them for having been “part of the problem.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and Andres Murillo released a statement after meeting with the pope, in which they said, “Pope Francis formally asked us for forgiveness, in his own name and on behalf of the universal Church.”

During his May 15-17 meetings, Francis handed out a ten-page document to the bishops, which was later leaked to Chilean media. In the letter, the pope criticized the way the crisis had been handled in Chile, with some abusive clerics being transferred to other dioceses, and the seriousness of charges “minimized.”

Pope Francis also said the problem can be traced to the defective seminary formation in Chile, noting there were “grave accusations against some bishops and superiors who sent to these educational institutions priests suspected of active homosexuality.”

The bishops presented the resignations on Thursday, but the pope has not yet given any indication how he will proceed.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

.