ROME – Chilean bishops speaking at a Vatican news conference on Friday announced that all the country’s active bishops have submitted a written resignation to Pope Francis, in the wake of a three-day summit in Rome to discuss their Church’s massive crisis over sexual abuse and abuse of power.
The decision about the bishops’ fate is now in the hands of Francis, who can either accept the resignations or reject them.
The bishops presented the resignations on Thursday, and the pope will make a decision in the weeks to come.
The bishops began a written statement on Friday thanking 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.”
“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,” the bishops wrote.
“Once again, we implore their forgiveness and help to continue moving forward in the path of healing and cauterization of the wounds,” they said.
The two prelates chosen to present the statement were Bishop Fernando Ramos Pérez, secretary general of the Chilean bishops’ conference, and Bishop Ignacio González, a member of Chile’s National Council for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Accompaniment of Victims.
In the statement, the bishops said that they are committed to making the “face of the Lord once again shine in our Church,” and asked with “humility and hope” for everyone’s help.
After reading the statement in the name of all 34 Chilean bishops who were in Rome, both Ramos and González read prepared remarks, but they did not take questions from reporters.
Although since 2015 much of the attention on the Chilean crisis has been focused on Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who’s been accused of covering up for the crimes of his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, convicted by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors, a report commissioned by the pope found the problem goes much further.
The 2,300-page report, produced by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu, led the pope to shift from defending Barros in public to acknowledging he’d been wrong, summoning the 34 bishops to Rome and three of Karadima’s victims.
Speaking with survivors of Karadima earlier this month, Francis reportedly apologized in the name of the Church and said that he’d been “part of the problem.”
Francis and the Chilean bishops met in Rome May 15-17, and, in a document distributed to the bishops and later leaked to Chilean media, the pope says of removing people from positions of authority, “This — and I say this clearly — must be done, but it’s not enough, we must go further.”
The pope also wrote that the “special mission” of Scicluna and Bertomeu was designed 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.”
From the beginning, the pope made clear he’s not pleased by what has been done to date, describing “a wound treated so far with a medicine which, far from curing, seems to have made it deeper and more painful.”
In the footnotes, Francis didn’t sugarcoat the failures of the Chilean bishops, saying that his envoys confirmed that some clerics guilty of immoral behavior were transferred to other dioceses, with the gravity of their actions “minimized” and attributed to “simple weakness or lack of morality.”
That research, Francis says, also showed mishandling of the allegations, because “in not a few cases” grave indications of a crime “were superficially dismissed as improbable.”
In his statement on Friday, Ramos noted that the pope’s text indicated a series of “absolutely reprehensible things that have happened in the Chilean Church in relation to unacceptable abuses of power, of conscience and of a sexual [nature], and which have led to diminishing of the prophetic vigor that characterized [the Church].”
According to Ramos, in the context of “dialogue and discernment” during the summit with the pope, several suggestions were made to “face this crisis.” During the meetings, he said, the decision was cemented that “to be in greater tune with the will of the Holy Father, it was convenient to declare our most absolute availability to put our pastoral assignments in the hands of the pope.”
“In this way, we could make a collegial and charitable gesture to assume- not without pain- the grave facts that have occurred, and so that the Holy Father could, freely, dispose of all of us,” Ramos said.
Building on that statement, González explained that until the pope makes a decision, they are still on active duty and members of the Chilean bishops’ conference.
Many observers, including survivors of clerical sexual abuse, have called for the resignation of at least the four bishops once in Karadima’s inner circle. Some survivors, however, such as Juan Carlos Cruz, one of the three victims who met with the pope in Rome last April, have called for every bishop to resign.
Of the 34 bishops who came to Rome, three are retired, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, former Archbishop of Santiago, who’s been accused of covering up cases of clerical sexual abuse. He currently has no responsibility in the Chilean Church, but he’s still a member of the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers.
Francis could dismiss Errazuriz from that role, or ask him to resign it.
The Vatican did not provide any indication on Friday of when the pope might act on the resignations, or what other measures he might take.