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Chile's bishops offer to resign over child abuse

May 18, 2018

In an unprecedented move, all 34 bishops from Chile offered their resignations to Pope Francis over a cover-up of sexual abuse of children. Previously, the pope summoned the bishops' conference to Vatican.

Vatikan Papst Franziskus & Bischöfe aus Chile
Pope Francis meeting Chiliean bishops in the VaticanImage: Reuters/Vatican Media

Following damning revelations over sex abuse by pedophile priests in Chile, the entire bishops' conference of the South American country offered to step down on Friday.

The bishops put their mandates "in the hands of the Holy Father so that he may decide freely over each of us," they said at a Vatican press conference.

Pope Francis can now reject or accept their resignations on a case-by-case basis, or delay his decision.

The Church officials also asked "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."

With 31 active bishops and three more retired ones all offering to step down, the move could result in the first such mass resignation in the history of the Catholic Church.

Read more: Pope knew about sex abuse cover-up, says Chilean victim

Did Pope Francis help cover up a sex scandal?

'It's all slander'

The resignations come as a culmination of a long-running sex abuse scandal involving top Catholic clergy in Chile, which saw even Pope Francis spark anger from the victims with his defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who allegedly witnessed and ignored the abuse.

Chile's abuse victims have long accused the Church of trying to cover up abuse, most notably by infamous priest Fernando Karadima. In 2011, a Vatican court found the influential cleric guilty of molesting children and ordered him to retire to a "life of prayer and penitence."

According to abuse survivors, Karadima-trained priest Juan Barros protected his former mentor while climbing through Church ranks. Despite the allegations, however, Pope Francis appointed Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, in 2015.

Pope admits he made 'grave errors' in child abuse scandal

Francis once again triggered outrage during his visit to Chile earlier this year. Just days after meeting the victims of abuse and apologizing to them in person, he emphatically dismissed accusations against Barros.

"The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him," the pope told a reporter while still in Chile. "It is all slander. Is that clear?" 

Activists later came forward saying that they had provided such information directly to Francis' subordinates years earlier, receiving assurances at the time that they would be shown to the pontiff.

Read more: Papal adviser Cardinal Sean O'Malley rebukes Pope Francis for abuse comments

Pope shares the blame

Upon returning to Rome, the pontiff partially backtracked from his comments, but maintained his belief that Barros was innocent. A renowned Vatican investigator was dispatched to Chile to collect evidence.

Last month, the pope abruptly changed course and expressed "shame" for his "grave errors in judgment" in the scandal. He also summoned Chilean bishops to the Vatican for a three-day summit this week.

Earlier today, a Chilean TV station published a 2,300-page report into abuse in Chile made by Vatican investigators. In the leaked document, Pope Francis himself slammed the clergy for failing to protect children or investigate abuse.

The pope said all of the bishops were to blame and "and me first of all."

Pope Francis asks Chileans for forgiveness

Sex abuse or 'moral lapse'

While some members of the Church were expelled from their congregations, the bishops and their subordinates "minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing to them mere weakness or moral lapses," Francis wrote. Later, 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," Francis added.

Church officials also pressured internal investigators "including the destruction of compromising documents."

dj/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)