Vatican City: Thirty-four Chilean bishops have offered their resignation to Pope Francis over allegations that they covered up clergy s** abuse scandals.
In a statement read out in a press conference, the bishops say all placed their mandates “in the hands of the Holy Father so that he may decide freely over each of us.”
They also “ask forgiveness for the pain caused to the victims, to the pope, to God’s people and to the country for our serious mistakes and omissions.”
The unprecedented move follows three days of Vatican meetings over the scandal, ending Thursday, between the Chilean episcopal conference and the pope.
The Vatican made it clear Saturday that Pope Francis had summoned Chile’s bishops to Rome for a papal dressing-down because of their role in covering up s****l abuse.
In a harsh statement that set the tone for this week’s meetings, the Vatican said Francis wanted to discern responsibilities for the crisis and map changes in the Chilean church to prevent these “devastating wounds” from recurring.
“It is fundamental to re-establish trust in the church through good pastors … who know how to accompany the suffering of victims and work in a determined and tireless way to prevent abuse,” the statement said.
For years, s** abuse victims have blasted the Chilean hierarchy for discrediting their claims, protecting abusers, moving them around rather than reporting them to police and then handing out light sentences when church sanctions are imposed.
Francis appears to have finally heard their complaints, and is making amends for having repeatedly defended a Chilean bishop accused of witnessing and ignoring abuse. Francis has admitted to “grave errors in judgement” in the case of Bishop Juan Barros, for having discredited the victims who placed him at the scene of their molestation.
Starting Tuesday, Francis will meet with 31 active and two retired Chilean bishops.
The Vatican said Saturday that Francis felt the need to do an “in-depth examination of the causes and consequences” of the multiple incidents of s** abuse and abuses of power and conscience in Chile. He also wanted to examine “the mechanisms that led to some cases of cover-up and the grave omissions concerning victims.”
The Vatican said the meetings would take place in a side room off the Vatican’s audience hall, not in the grandeur of the Apostolic Palace or in the intimacy of the Santa Marta hotel where Francis lives.
Two weeks ago, Francis hosted at Santa Marta the three main whistleblowers in the Chilean scandal: Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo. He spent hours with them in private discussing their abuse and the broader scandal, and invited them up to the palace as he delivered his weekly Sunday blessing.
The Chilean bishops are receiving no such VIP treatment: They are being housed at a residence for priests and tourists near the Vatican.
One key player in the scandal, the retired archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, had said he wouldn’t come for personal reasons, but was photographed Saturday on a flight to Rome. Chilean media had said Errazuriz was offended that he couldn’t stay at Santa Marta, his usual residence during periodic visits as one of Francis’ nine key cardinal advisers.
The Chilean abuse saga has been brewing for years but it came to a head in January, when Francis strongly defended Barros during a trip to Chile and said accusations he covered up for Chile’s most famous predator priest were “calumny.”
Francis appeared not to know that the three most vocal victims of the abusive priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, had accused Barros of being on hand for their abuse.
Soon after returning, Francis sent two seasoned investigators to Chile to get to the bottom of the scandal. Their 2,300-page report, containing testimony from 64 victims, priests and laity, prompted Francis to do an about-face. He apologized to the victims and summoned the bishops for a brow-beating.
The bishops have defended their behavior, insisting that they were perfectly forthcoming with Francis about Barros and denied responsibility for the “lack of truthful and balanced information” that Francis blamed for his missteps.
But in a statement this week, they acknowledged that their behavior “hadn’t always managed to heal the wounds” of abuse and said Francis’ meetings with victims “showed the path that the Chilean church is called to follow.”
After four days as Francis’ guests at Santa Marta, the three Karadima victims reported feeling that they had finally been heard, that Francis understood the depth of their pain and the crisis in Chile’s church.
They said they told Francis frankly that Errazuriz had ignored their claims against Karadima for years, and that many of his fellow bishops had similarly poor records.
During the meetings with the Chilean bishops, Pope Francis was accompanied by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office who is responsible for vetting new bishops and investigating complicit ones. Five Chilean bishops are retiring or due to retire soon, meaning Francis has a chance to remake Chile’s church hierarchy.
The pope, the statement said, asked for the bishops to come with “docile and humble” spirit.
It was widely believed ahead of the meeting that three Karadima-trained bishops, including Barros, will be asked to resign.