Chilean Bishops Resign en masse


This was last week's big scandal which I sort of covered here.

As reported in ALL the secular press, here in The Tablet, every Chilean bishop has offered his resignation to Pope Francis after a series of closed-door meetings with all 34 bishops at the Vatican this week, to discuss the abuse crisis in the country.

The dramatic announcement followed the leaking of a 10-page letter to television channel T13, reportedly handed to the bishops at the start of this week’s discussions, in which Francis said removing bishops may be needed but would not be sufficient to solve the abuse crisis in Chile. In the letter Francis cites clericalist, elitist and authoritarian attitudes dominating in the Church and an urgent need to put Christ back at the “ecclesial centre”.

"It would be irresponsible on our part not to delve into looking for the roots and the structures that allowed these [abuses] to happen and to be perpetuated,” the Latin American Pope explained.

Francis ordered the bishops to Rome after receiving a 2,300- page report into the sex abuse problems written by the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna. He commissioned the report after his visit to Chile in January in which he defended Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno against accusations from abuse survivors.

Now it could be said that Francis, having mishandled the Chilean abuse scandal, insulted the abuse survivors and then made all the Chilean bishops resign to cover up his mistake. But these resignations put the Pope in something of a trilemma: he can accept them all in which case it will look like cop out; he can reject them all and then try them, in which case he won’t look very merciful; or he can accept some and not others in which case it will look like an extrajudicial decapitation or (worse) parti pris. Ed Condon suggested that Pope Francis should reject the Chilean bishops’ mass resignation and asserted that individuals need to be held to account, thus they need to stand trial.

Damian Thompson suggested that this was a move in the right direction for Pope Francis:
But I don't see how it can be anything more than a sham. When one factors in that there is no resignation from Cardinal Errazuriz, no removal from the C9, no bishop removed - instead all are allowed to resign, it appears that this is indeed Pope Francis' chance to do something but really nothing changes.

Perhaps the point was best made by former member of the PCPM Marie Collins on her blog:

I am delighted for the abuse survivors in Chile that they have been rewarded for the courage and perseverance they have shown over many years in the teeth of the most vicious and reprehensible treatment by their Catholic Church leaders. There is no denying the offer of resignation from all the active bishops in Chile is an unprecedented event. No doubt the Chile church will now undergo reform in personnel and practice. All of this is very welcome.

I read yesterday a suggestion that myself and others were guilty of cynicism because we expressed the view that this was not enough. Why would I not just rejoice at the sight of bishops resigning and a local church being overhauled and leave it at that? The reason is that Chile is not unique. What has gone on in Chile is no different than what has happened in other local churches around the world, America, Australia and my own country Ireland being the most well-known examples. But we know these are not alone, it has happened in many other countries, it is happening now and will continue to happen into the future if real structural and attitudinal change is not embraced by the Catholic Church.

The letter from the Pope to the Chile bishops leaked to the press shows that there was “grave negligence”, reports of abuse were ignored, investigations (when they took place) superficial and minimisation of crimes to mere “moral lapses” the guilty being moved into new positions with free access to children. We know from the recent words of Cardinal Errazuriz he did not take action against the prolific abuser Fr. Karadima because he was a charismatic priest who “brought young men into the church”.

While abusing their own power and facilitating further crimes against young people these men then felt justified in efforts to destroy the reputation and lives of survivors who fought to expose their toxic behaviour. In case we forget how comfortable these church men, holding the highest offices, felt in using devious methods to silence a survivor we only need to read the e mail correspondence between Cardinal Errazuria and Cardinal Ezzati published in 2015
Translation: (scroll down to second item)

It is clear Cardinal Errazuriz successfully prevented the Chilean survivor Juan Carlos Cruz from speaking at the Anglopone conference in Rome 2014 and intervened in 2015 to prevent him from being considered for membership of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors when the Cardinal learned I had put his name forward.

So what is to be the punishment of these church leaders, bishops and cardinals, who facilitated abusers and tried to destroy victims? In the case of the bishops it seems they are to be allowed to resign and walk away. In the case of the cardinals so far we do not know. Cardinal Erazzuriz is still a member of the Council of Cardinals (the C9) the most senior advisers to the Pope but most likely he will be allowed in time to quietly retire. Is this enough? In my view it is not.

The Vatican likes this way of dealing with men such as this. It means their reputations are not sullied by the exposure of their individual wrongdoing, they can claim never to have been found guilty of anything, they save face and it moves things along quickly, the sooner to be forgotten. They will retain their titles and no doubt in many case also their privileges. Does this send a dire message to those church leaders at this moment protecting abusers or destroying victims – a message to make them shake in their boots and change their ways – I doubt it.

There should be a proper process in the church for holding such men accountable. Where they would face severe penalties for actions of this type. It must be transparent in order that their crimes and their punishments are clear for all to see in order to deter any who would think of emulating them. Calls for this accountability have been constant over the years from survivors of abuse. Yet these calls have been ignored.

In 2015 during the time I was a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors it recommended a structure to bring such accountability. This Accountability Tribunal process was approved by the Holy Father and it was announced on 10th June 2015 including the fact that the Pope would be providing resources and personnel for it. However it never happened. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith did not implement it as they claimed it was “not needed”.
Carinal Muller, the then Prefect of the CDF, in his interview with the National Catholic Reporter on 14th March 2017 in regard to this Accountability Tribunal said the following:
“It was a project, but after an intense dialogue between various dicasteries involved in the fight against paedophilia in the clergy, it was concluded that any criminal negligence by bishops can be addressed through the existing competence,tools and legal means of the Congregation for Bishops. In addition, the Holy Father can always entrust a special case to the Congregation”.

Obviously the Pope did not see these processes as sufficient or he would not have approved the recommendation for an Accountability Tribunal. Either way these “tools” and “legal means” are not being used to address the actions of the Chilean bishops – why not?
When the CDF refused to implement the Accountability Tribunal Pope Francis attempted to circumvent this block by announcing an alternative process in his moto propo “As a Loving Mother” which actually expanded the accountability process to include religious superiors as well as bishops.

Article 1 of this reads:
§ 1. The diocesan Bishop or Eparch, or one who even holds a temporary title and is responsible for a Particular Church, or other community of faithful that is its legal equivalent, according to can. 368 CIC or can. 313 CCEO, can be legitimately removed from this office if he has through negligence committed or through omission facilitated acts that have caused grave harm to others, either to physical persons or to the community as a whole. The harm may be physical, moral, spiritual or through the use of patrimony.
§ 2. The diocesan Bishop or Eparch can only be removed if he is objectively lacking in a very grave manner the diligence that his pastoral office demands of him, even without serious moral fault on his part.
§ 3. In the case of the abuse of minors and vulnerable adults it is enough that the lack of diligence be grave.
§ 4. The Major Superiors of Religious Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right are equivalent to diocesan Bishops and Eparchs.

The duty to implement this new accountability procedure was given to the Congregation for the Bishops. However it too seems to have gone the way of the original Accountability Tribunal - into the sand.

Surely the actions of the bishops and cardinals in Chile fall within the scope of this process yet it is not being used. Does the Pope or the Vatican not owe an explanation as to why this is so. If it is not used in this case and bishops are allowed to walk away without facing any disciplinary hearing then will it ever be used? Does any bishop or religious superior anywhere need to fear it?

The lack of a proper process to hold church leaders accountable for their actions within the church structure will lead to continued abuse of power and failure to protect minors from harm. Announcing such processes may be good PR but without implementation nothing changes. This is why I believe Chilean bishops being allowed to resign and walk away from their disgraceful and harmful actions is not enough if we want to prevent their behaviour being repeated in other locations. Nor is it enough to show that the church is truly determined to protect minors in every way possible. Only strong, transparent implementation of proper accountability processes will indicate real change.


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