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Chile’s bishops resign en masse over sex abuse cover-up

A picture shows the hands of Pope Francis during a private audience with the president of Benin, Patrice Talon, on May 18, 2018, at the Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Vincenzo PINTO

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Every Chilean bishop offered to resign Friday (May 18) over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, in the biggest shakeup ever in the Catholic Church’s long-running abuse saga.

The bishops announced at the end of an emergency summit with Pope Francis that all 31 active bishops and three retired ones in Rome had signed a document offering to resign and putting their fate in the hands of the pope. Francis can accept the resignations one by one, reject them or delay a decision.

It marked the first known time in history that an entire national bishops conference had offered to resign en masse over scandal, and laid bare the devastation that the abuse crisis has caused the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond.

Calls had mounted for the resignations after details emerged of the contents of a 2,300-page Vatican report into the Chilean scandal leaked early Friday. Francis had accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring investigators to minimize abuse accusations and showing “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophile priests.

In one of the most damning documents from the Vatican on the issue, Francis said the entire Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for “grave defects” in handling cases and the resulting loss of credibility that the Catholic Church has suffered.

“No one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others,” Francis wrote in the document, which was published by Chilean T13 television and confirmed as accurate Friday by the Vatican.

In a statement in response, the Chilean bishops said the contents of the document were “absolutely deplorable” and showed an “unacceptable abuse of power and conscience,” as well as sexual abuse.

They asked forgiveness to the victims, the pope and all Catholics and vowed to repair the damage.

Francis summoned the entire bishops’ conference to Rome after admitting that he had made “grave errors in judgment” in the case of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of Chilean priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.

But the scandal grew beyond the Barros case after Francis received the report written by two Vatican sex crimes experts sent to Chile to get a handle on the scope of the problem. Their report hasn’t been made public, but Francis cited its core findings in the footnotes of the document that he handed over to the bishops at the start of their summit this week.

And those findings are damning.

Francis said the investigation showed there were “grave defects” in the way abuse cases were handled, with superficial investigations or no investigation at all of allegations that contained obvious evidence of crimes. The result, he said, “created a scandal for those who denounced them and all those who know the alleged victims.”

In other cases, there was “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophiles by bishops and religious superiors — a reference to the many cases of sexual abuse that have arisen in recent years within Chilean religious orders, including the Salesians, Franciscans and the Marist Brothers community.

Some of these religious order priests and brothers were expelled from their congregations because of immoral conduct, but had their cases “minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing to them mere weakness or moral lapses,” Francis wrote.

But those same people “were then welcomed into other dioceses, in an obviously imprudent way, and given diocesan or parish jobs that gave them daily contact with minors,” he said.

Such behavior has been the hallmark of the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide, with bishops and religious superiors shuttling abusers from parish to parish or dioceses rather than reporting them to police or launching canonical investigations and removing them from ministry.

Francis said he was also “perplexed and ashamed” by the report’s evidence that there were “pressures exercised” on church officials tasked with investigating sex crimes “including the destruction of compromising documents on the part of those in charge of ecclesiastic archives.”

He said such behavior showed “an absolute lack of respect for the canonical process and worse, reprehensible practices that must be avoided in the future.”

He said the problem wasn’t limited to a group of people, but can be traced to the training Chilean priests receive in seminary, blaming the “profound fracture” within the church on the seminaries themselves. The Vatican investigation, he said, contained “grave accusations against some bishops and superiors who sent to these educational institutions priests suspected of active homosexuality.”

The harsh assessment of the quality of seminaries suggests that a possible next step might be a full-on Vatican investigation of Chilean schools of priestly training. Pope Benedict XVI ordered such an investigation into Irish seminaries after he convened the entire Irish bishops’ conference for a similar dressing-down in 2010 over their dismal handling of abuse cases.

“The problems inside the church community can’t be solved just by dealing with individual cases and reducing them to the removal of people, though this — and I say so clearly — has to be done,” Francis wrote. “But it’s not enough, we have to go beyond that. It would be irresponsible on our part to not look deeply into the roots and the structures that allowed these concrete events to occur and perpetuate.”

For years, sex abuse victims have blasted the Chilean hierarchy for discrediting their claims, protecting abusers and moving them around rather than reporting them to police and then handing out light sentences when church sanctions were imposed.

Based on Francis’ footnotes, the Vatican investigation compiled by the Catholic Church’s top abuse prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and his aide, Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, gave full credibility to the victims.

Francis, though, has also been implicated in the scandal, and in his document saying all Chilean bishops bore blame he added “and me first of all.”

Francis first drew scorn from victims, ordinary Chileans and even members of his sex abuse advisory board by appointing Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, in 2015.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Francis did so over the objections of other Chilean bishops who knew Barros’ past was problematic and had recommended he and other Karadima-trained bishops resign and take a sabbatical.

The AP subsequently reported that Francis had received a letter in 2015 from one of Karadima’s most vocal accusers, Juan Carlos Cruz, detailing Barros’ misdeeds. That letter undercut Francis’ claim to have never heard from victims about Barros.

Francis further enraged Chileans and drew sharp rebuke from his top abuse adviser when, during a January trip to Chile, he said the accusations against Barros were “calumny” and said he was “certain” he was innocent.

After receiving the Scicluna-Bertomeu report, though, Francis did an about-face. Blaming a “lack of truthful and balanced information” about the case for his missteps, Francis invited the three main whistleblowers to the Vatican hotel he calls home so he could apologize in person.

About the author

Nicole Winfield

40 Comments

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  • It’s interesting to compare the Chilean bishops’ response to charges that they have widely covered up clerical sexual abuse of minors with that of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

    When the Dallas Morning News issued its blockbuster report in 2002 showing that two-thirds of U.S. Catholic bishops had covered up cases of sexual abuse by clerics and/or church workers, there was no such offer to resign, on the part of the U.S. bishops.

    In fact, they went on to elect as their USCCB president (in 2010) Timothy Dolan, who had participated in a scheme as archbishop of Milwaukee to divert church funds into a cemetery account to shield them from abuse survivors suing the archdiocese for covering up clerical abuse of minors.

    Two countries, two very different stories: the U.S. bishops have, after all, had real moral issues — like contraceptive coverage in the ACA, abortion, and increasingly societal and church affirmation of LGBTQ human beings — to fight. They’ve had Republican candidates to anoint and bless — or support through silent complicity.

    They can’t be bothered with dealing with minor moral issues like sexual abuse of minors.

  • How about another en masse resignation of every cardinal, bishop or cleric who participated in or turned a blind eye to the coverup. That would let the world know they are serious. Good luck with that!

  • Francis is anguished by the abuse scandal, then decides against the promised Abuse Tribunal.

    Francis is anguished by the abuse scandal, but is silent when Marie Collins resigns from his Abuse Commission.

    Francis is anguished by the abuse scandal, but participates in the Cardinal’s funeral mass that Cardinal Law receives at the Vatican.

    Francis is anguished by the abuse scandal, but calls survivors in Chili liars. Francis steps in it bigtime in Chili, and now the entire Chilean hierarchy is going to pay the price.

    Francis is well on his way to becoming the patron saint of hypocrites.

  • The Dallas Morning News report’s conclusions was completely contingent upon its own definition of “covered up”.

    The transfer of earmarked funds from the Archdiocesan General Fund in Milwaukee was not a “scheme”.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/appeals-court-overturns-ruling-on-milwaukee-catholic-cemetery-trust-1425949192

    https://mediatbankry.com/2016/05/05/dont-let-this-happen-to-you-milwaukee-archdiocese-bankruptcy-part-three-the-in-court-slugfest/

    It was an effort to shield funds intended for perpetual care of cemeteries which had sat untransfered, based on bona-fide legal as the long trail of litigation demonstrates.

  • Yes, he’s had a lot of changes of heart over this, hasn’t he? Back in January he’d apologized to Barro’s victims, then a couple days later accused them of lying. That’s what he apologized for earlier this month … but what’s next for him? He’s like a seesaw; “the abuse was terrrible and we’re sorry” is inevitably followed by “abuse, what abuse, how dare you accuse us of abuse!” It’s enough to make one’s head spin.  

  • Interesting. Cardinal law was rewarded with a position in Rome while these bishops are willing to be fired. Wow.

  • “Offered to resign” is not the same as ‘resigned.’ You might want to fix that headline.

  • I offered to have a torrid affair with Ryan Reynolds. It’s definitely not the same thing as having one.

  • “It looks like the US Church did a very good, not perfect, of cleaning house.”

    These are headlines from the today and yesterday alone, all having to do with U.S. Catholic clergy and church workers:

    “Pastor shocked by child sexual abuse allegations against retired priest-in-residence”

    “Former priest charged with six counts of sexual assault of a child”

    “Priest extradited from Philippines pleads guilty to 2 counts”

    “Diocese of Madison statement regarding retired priest’s arrest and court appearance; accusations of sexual abuse of a minor”

    “Retired Madison priest faces sexual assault charges in Jefferson County”

    “Complaint: Madison priest-in-residence assaulted Fort Atkinson altar boy more than 100 times”

    “Alums accuse Catholic school in San Jose for failing to handle past sex abuse claims”

    “Ex-Fort priest arrested for molestation”

    “Milwaukee priest jailed for sexual contact served at St. Mark’s Parish in Phoenix in 1970s”

    “Class Action Lawsuit Filed On Behalf Of Minor Students Who Were Sexually Assaulted By A Former Saint Frances Academy Teacher”

    “Former Gonzaga priest and professor sentenced for child porn possession”

    “Shielding predators: Church leaders oppose measures to benefit sexual abuse victims”

    Given the steady flow of headlines like this, I find the deflecting argument that other groups are just as guilty hardly convincing at all — and hardly worthy members of a Christian church that claims to adhere to higher moral standards than those applied in the world around it.

  • As a tiny first step, I would like to see Francis accepting the resignations of the Chilean bishops. I’m not holding my breath.

  • WONDER OF WONDERS, THIS:

    What will “bishops and superiors” with their pope discover? – once they “look deeply into the roots and the structures that allowed these concrete events to occur and perpetuate” – that foment “the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide”?

    ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, I tell you! And why not?

    BECAUSE: these conspiring “bishops and superiors” plus their very own conspiring pope, have ALL CONFESSED AND PLEADED GUILTY.

    “The hallmark of the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide” is the “behavior”of US, they say!

    (1) Of “bishops and religious superiors shuttling abusers from parish to parish or dioceses rather than reporting them to police or launching canonical investigations and removing them from ministry … [thereby] protecting abusers”!

    (2) Of “bishops and superiors … sen[ding] to … educational institutions priests suspected of active homosexuality”!

    (3) “And [of] me first of all”, admitted the Pope of the Catholic Church himself – for “claim[ing] to have never heard from victims about [Juan] Barros”, even after “receiv[ing] a letter in 2015 from one of [Fernando] Karadima’s most vocal accusers, Juan Carlos Cruz, detailing Barros’ misdeeds”!

    So, nope, nothing to see here, folks!

    Long live the Catholic Church!

  • No one is ever really fired in the RC. They will just be put out to pasture in a comfy chalet to live a life of service to themselves, prayer and contemplation of their navels! :p

  • No, clerics of every rank have actually been fired.

    I can’t seem to find my notes, but Donald Wuerl while in Pittsburgh fired a priest there without a trial and without any criminal charges having been filed by the civil authorities leaving him without any income and no means of support.

  • If your argument were based on actual data, not just the thirst for headlines and who the media likes to jump up and down on, it might have legs.

    The actual data supports the conclusion that putting your child in a public school is multiples more dangerous than putting your child in proximity to a Catholic cleric.

  • It appears you are summarizing accusations & allegations over the period of 50+ years.

    And how many convictions, or reversed convictions were there?

    Let’s not forget the BBC ( incl. now NYT editor Mark Thompson), Jimmy Savile program, where many children were abused, & covered up for years.

    Or one could add the laws protecting teachers from abuse charges.

  • I won’t tell your husband if you won’t tell mine.

    Well, actually he told me to go ahead and have my affair with RR. “Knock yourself out.” he said.

  • If there were no indictments in Texas for “covering up” felonies, which is what the Dallas Morning News spun, there were no crimes.

    There were a lot of other things.

    How many psychologists or psychiatrists have been indicted for dusting off untreatable pedophiles and sending them back with a clean bill of health?

    Stupidity may be a lot of things, but a crime it isn’t.

  • I think just like the judges who run the justice system.

    You, on the other hand, look like a member of a lynch mob.

  • Ah, holding pedophiles and rapists and their protectors accountable for evil is “lynching” .

  • Without rule of law based on nothing but the protein filaments around your sphincter, yes.

  • Note that the gun supporter, deluded Christian nutcase, bigot, and NRA shill presenting himself in this thread as “Bob Arnzen” variously and dishonestly uses a variety of names on RNS such as Bob Arnzen, José Carioca, and others. However, there is actually no real Bob Arnzen, and there is no real José Carioca.

    It is recommended that you refer to him and reply to him stating his name as “Bobosé”, “Bobby-Jo”, or just “snowflake”.

    The José Carioca account for this present post is used as a parody of “Bob Arnzen”.

  • As I said. you think like a perp. What recently took place in Chile is a small drop in the bucket of shite that is the Roman Catholic Church.

  • And your post to which I’m responding is a small drop in the bucket of the shite that constitute your posts.

  • In Saudi Arabia one is still put on trial for casting witchcraft spells, and if convicted is beheaded with a sword. This, in 2018, from the religion moving into the west.

  • Not the majority of them. The U.S. still has more Christians (various Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox…etc) than any other religion, yet we have same-sex marriage in the U.S. In Muslim-majority countries gays are imprisoned, publicly caned, and in nine of them can get the death penalty. Muslims make Christians (and Jews and atheists and Hindus…) look like pussycats.

  • Yawn Certain ones. That goes for every religion. Including atheists and Pagans. But it’s still not the majority. In Muslim countries the entire population agrees with executing GLB so.. ..that’s why the executions are legal.

  • “97 percent of Ethiopia residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not be accepted.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Ethiopia
    “In December 2008, nearly a dozen Ethiopian religious figures (including the leader of Ethiopian Muslims and the heads of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches) adopted a resolution against homosexuality, urging Ethiopian lawmakers to endorse a ban on homosexual activity in the constitution.”

    It ain’t just the Muslims you gotta worry about.

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