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.
Hope, cynicism both on display after mass Chile resignations
- Inés San Martín
May 19, 2018
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.”