At the Vatican, 34 Catholic bishops of Chile offered their resignations to Pope Francis in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church in the South American republic. The bishops had been summoned by the pontiff for a three day conference. In their statement, the bishops said, “We, all the bishops present in Rome, have tendered our resignation to the Holy Father so that he may decide freely for each of us.”
Pope Francis promised on Thursday that “changes” are coming to the Church in Chile in an effort to “restore justice” in a child abuse scandal that haunts his papacy. In a letter to the Chilean bishops, the pope gave no indication of consequences for those suspected of sinning by omission in relation to the abuse. The pope said that he has already asked for “forgiveness from the heart” from victims of abuse and noted that the bishops have expressed their “firm intention to repair the damage caused.” In a letter to the bishops, the pope called on the bishops build a church which listens to “the hungry, the imprisoned, the migrant and the abused”.
The unprecedented summoning of the Chilean bishops by the pope is unprecedented. It comes after the controversy that emerged during his January visit to Chile when he was seen to have defended the controversial Bishop Juan Barros. Pope Francis strongly defended Barros, who has been accused of covering up sexual abuses by Rev. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and ’90s.
In January, Francis said he was certain of Barros’ innocence and demanded “proof” before he would condemn him. He later apologized to the victims and admitted that he was guilty of “grave mistakes” after reading a 2,300-page report on the abuse in Chile.
Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton, and José Andrés Murillo are three of Karadima's victims. They met with Pope Francis two weeks ago at the Vatican, individually and as a group. Hamilton commented afterward that he was indelibly impressed by the frankness and humility expressed in the apology he received from the Pope in person. Reacting to the news of the bishops' resignations, sexual assault victim Cruz stated on Twitter, "This changes things forever. All of the bishops resigned. Unprecedented and well done." Hamilton said on May 13 that Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz is "the leader of corruption of the church in Chile."