ROME – After every single Catholic bishop in Chile submitted their resignations to Pope Francis, and with no decision yet by the pontiff about which, if any, to accept, reactions to the not-quite-symbolic gesture have varied, with some observers encouraged and others cynical.
Some referred to the mass resignations announced Friday as a strong gesture demonstrating resolve to recover from a crisis centering not only on sexual abuse but abuses of conscience and power, while critics implied it may be too little, too late.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of abuse committed by Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, and who met Pope Francis at the Vatican in late April, took to Twitter to say the resignations were “unprecedented and good” and that this “will change things forever.”
According to Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org in a statement released Friday, “The en masse resignation of the Chilean episcopacy is as stunning as it is necessary.”
The online platform has tracked some 80 cases of priests accused of sexual abuse in Chile.
Yet Marie Collins, who was a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors until she resigned in protest 2017 over what she charged was the Vatican’s inaction, said on Twitter, “It would be far more impressive if we saw bishops in every other country now changing their attitude to victims.”
“Chilean bishops [were] dragged to this point. Nothing done voluntarily, nothing by choice. Behave properly in the first place, then no need for apologies or forgiveness,” she wrote.
In a second message, she referred to Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, the retired Archbishop of Santiago who has no active role in the Chilean Church, but who sits on the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisers. He has been accused by Karadima’s victims of having covered up for the priest’s crimes.
“Chile: No resignation from Cardinal Errazuriz? No removal from the C9? No bishop removed – all allowed to resign. Really nothing changes,” she said.
After he summoned all the Chilean bishops to Rome, Francis said to solve the crisis in the country that short-, medium- and long-term actions will need to be taken, and that the removal of bishops will be a necessary, but insufficient, step.
Francis can accept, reject or delay a decision regarding each bishop, and the prelates will remain on active duty until he makes a choice.
Father Eduardo Silva Arevalo, rector of Chile’s Jesuit university, defined the pope’s message to the Chilean bishops in Rome as “very strong and evangelical.”
The priest told Crux that the “poor Church we are now, centered on ourselves, without pastoral harmony with the people of God, on the defensive, clerical, and accused of abuses and negligent to address them” contrasts with a once-prophetic Chilean Church.
In the past, he said, the Church in the country was a defender of human rights, close to the poor, emphatic with popular piety and the indigenous Mapuche people, at the service of base ecclesial communities.
“The resignation [of the bishops] is a sign of a call to conversion, repentance and change, a first step on a very long road,” Silva said.
Victims in Chile largely reacted with praise and hope.
Jose Andres Murillo, who together with two other survivors of Karadima’s abuse was in Rome late April to talk with the pope about the crisis, called the bishops “delinquents” who deserve to go.
“For dignity, justice and truth, the bishops should leave” he tweeted on Friday. “They didn’t know how to protect the weakest, they exposed them to abuse and then impeded justice. For this, they only deserve to go.”
Experts on the Church’s abuse scandals, however, stressed that the pattern of cover-up is not unique to Chile.
“We see the same cover-up today by Church officials in Argentina, the Philippines, Poland, and Buffalo, New York. Change is occurring in Chile simply because that situation caused a public relations debacle for the pope himself,” said Barrett Doyle.
Francis drew fire after publicly defending Bishop Juan Barros, one of the prelates accused of cover-up, saying that the allegations made against him were “calumnies” and demanding proof.
Some bishops left Rome on Thursday night. Upon arriving in Chile, Bishop Carlos Pellegrin of Chillan, told journalists at Santiago’s airport Friday that in offering to resign as a group, they didn’t want to suggest they were “abandoning ship” and leaving the pope alone to deal with their mess.
“We are at his total disposition to clean up what we have to do, to ensure protocols that will help us care for victims better,” he said, according to The Associated Press.
Santiago’s archbishop, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, gave a press conference on Friday after his arrival in Chile, describing the encounter with the pope as a “blessing from God, for the Church in Chile, for the priests, for laity.”
Asked about the destruction of evidence that Francis referred to in his message to the bishops, the prelate said that for him it was a “novelty.”