Every single one of Chile’s 34 Roman Catholic bishops has offered to resign in response to the country’s clergy sex abuse scandal.
The mass resignation offer from the entire bishops conference, announced on Friday, was the first of its kind in modern Catholic history. The move was greeted with praise by the victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of three men who met privately with Pope Francis last month to discuss the scandal, said on Twitter that the pontiff appeared to have listened to their stories of survival. The resignations would “change things forever,” Cruz said.
“I’m very excited with all of this. It’s good for our beloved country, for so many people who have suffered because of corrupt and deceitful bishops, and also survivors who have been ignored all over the world,” Cruz wrote. ” There’s no going back. History has changed. Thank you truly.”
Jose Andres Murillo, another survivor who met with Francis, tweeted that he hopes the bishops will in fact be removed from their positions.
The 31 active bishops and three retired ones placed their signatures on a document offering their resignation and leaving their fates up to Francis. Francis can accept the resignations on an individual basis, reject them, or delay a decision, The Associated Press reports.
“[The bishops] didn’t know how to protect the weakest, they exposed them to abuse and then impeded justice,” Murillo wrote Friday. “For this, they only deserve to go.”
The offer to resign en masse comes at the conclusion of a three-day emergency summit called by Pope Francis to address the ongoing crisis in Chile. For years, abuse victims have claimed the Chilean bishops conference protected abusive priests by shuttling them around to different dioceses rather than reporting them to the police.
The pope had sent the Vatican’s top sex crimes prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to Chile after receiving heated backlash about the way he also appeared to dismiss victims’ claims.
In January, Francis was caught on tape accusing Karadima’s victims of slander against Chile’s Bishop Juan Barros. The victims claimed the bishop had witnessed abuse by the pedophile priest and did nothing to stop it. The Vatican found Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors in 2011, but Barros continued to enjoy the Holy See’s favor. Francis tapped Barros to lead the Osorno Diocese in 2015 over protestations from victims and even local Catholic clergy.
But the crisis in Chile extends far beyond Karadima and Barros. In recent years, sex abuse victims have come forward with claims against Chilean religious orders, such as the Salesians, Franciscans and the Marist Brothers.
After meeting with Karadima’s survivors last month and reviewing Scicluna’s 2,300-page report about the scandal, Francis has reportedly come to the conclusion that the entire Chilean bishops conference was collectively responsible for gravely mishandling the crisis. In a document distributed to the bishops and leaked to Chilean media, the pope apparently rebuked the Chilean church for destroying evidence, minimizing sex crimes, and neglecting to protect children from pedophile priests. The Vatican has confirmed the leaked document’s authenticity to the AP and Reuters.
On Friday, the Chilean bishops thanked Francis for offering “brotherly correction.”
“Above all, we want to ask forgiveness for the pain caused to the victims, to the pope, to the people of God and our country for the serious errors and omissions committed by us,” the bishops’ statement said, according to Reuters.
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the clergy sex abuse tracking organization BishopAccountability, called Friday’s announcement “stunning” and “necessary.”
She hopes Francis will accept all of the bishops’ resignations, Barrett Doyle told HuffPost. However, she believes it’s crucial that Francis creates efficient systems for investigating and disciplining bishops who have enabled child abuse in other countries.
“The Chilean church is not atypical,” she said. “Change is occurring in Chile simply because that situation caused a public relations debacle for the pope himself.”
“To stop the horror of child sexual abuse by clergy, the church must finally enact reforms at a global level.”