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The Chilean Catholic church is facing a crisis after all Chilean bishops signed a letter of resignation. Thirty-one serving and three retired bishops made this drastic move after Pope Francis said the Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for mistakes in handling sexual abuse cases and the resulting loss of credibility suffered by the church.
“We have put our positions in the hands of the Holy Father and will leave it to him to decide freely for each of us,” they said, according to The Guardian. “We want to ask forgiveness for the pain caused to the victims, to the pope, to God’s people and to our country for the serious errors and omissions we have committed.” It is not yet clear whether Pope Francis will accept this "en masse" resignation.
The Holy Father accused the Chilean church of destroying evidence of sexual crimes, putting pressure on investigators and showing negligence in protecting children from pedophile priests. At first he defended one of Chilean bishops, Juan Barros, who had been accused of covering up alleged abuse by a Chilean priest in the 1980s and 1990s and who is one of 34 bishops who offered resignation. Juan Barros denied that he was aware of priest's wrongdoing, and Pope Francis strongly defended Barros during his visit to Chile, stating that there is no one piece of evidence against him. The Vatican later sent two experts on sexual crimes to investigate claims of abuse and cover-up in Chile and they provided a massive report which exposed the Chilean church's wrongdoings and the Vatican’s missteps in handling Barros.
After the report, Pope Francis was forced to admit that he had made errors in judgment in the case of Juan Barros, and he summoned the bishops to an emergency summit in Rome. A letter has been handed to bishops at the start of the summit, and Pope strongly criticized the church authorities. As The Guardian reports, Francis said that "no one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others." He also stated that the church authorities minimized the absolute gravity of the priests' criminal acts and that he was ashamed by the report's evidence that pressure was put on church officials tasked with investigating sexual crimes. “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," said Francis. “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.”
All of this triggered the unprecedented resignation of all Chilean bishops, and this is the first time all of the most senior clerics of a country have volunteered to stand down over sex abuse cases.