Every bishop in Chile offered his resignation to Pope Francis after a three-day meeting at the Vatican to discuss the clerical sexual abuse scandal.
“We want to announce that all bishops present in Rome, in writing, have placed our positions in the Holy Father’s hands so that he may freely decide regarding each one of us,” Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz of San Bernardo said May 18 in a statement on behalf of the country’s bishops.
The unprecedented decision was made on the final day of their meeting May 15-17 with Francis.
Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos Perez of Santiago, secretary-general of the Chilean bishops’ conference, said the pope had read to the 34 bishops a document in which he “expressed his conclusions and reflections” on the 2,300-page report compiled by Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and his aide, Fr. Jordi Bertomeu, during a visit to Chile to investigate the scandal.
“The pope’s text clearly showed a series of absolutely reprehensible acts that have occurred in the Chilean church in relation to those unacceptable abuses of power, of conscience and sexual abuse that have resulted in the lessening of the prophetic vigor that characterized her,” Ramos said.
After reflecting on the pope’s assessment, he added, the bishops decided to hand in their resignations “to be in greater harmony with the will of the Holy Father.”
No word on what Francis will do, but I hope he accepts the resignations. To do so would be just, and would give the Chilean church a chance to heal, and to begin the process of rebuilding its authority.
Just think of what the effect would have been ten to fifteen years ago, if every American bishop had offered his resignation in response to the scandal here. Not every American bishop was guilty, or equally guilty, but the fact that they were willing to step down would have sent an incredibly powerful signal about the seriousness with which the national hierarchy took the crimes committed by its priests on its watch.
I’m eager to learn more about the Chilean hierarchy’s decision, but I’ll say this: it is an act not of weakness, but of moral and spiritual strength. It is a profoundly Christian act of taking responsibility for ones sins and failings. I hope Francis will honor it by accepting, and cleaning house.
UPDATE: Good comment by reader Liam:
*If* this does turn out to be more than a gesture, and to have real teeth, then I would offer the following question with a speculative answer: why is it that it has not happened until now with this Pope on whom so many hopes (and fears) of shaking things up has not exactly unfolded as expected? Speculative answer: because in this situation, Pope Francis himself also screwed up, and hurl what you will against him, his history is one where that kind of thing is a Damascene conversion experience and he is open to those things in a way that Popes typically resist out of concern that institutional values override the personal/individual (a concern that is Roman to its core, going back to the Republican era – Romans were always wary of the personal overriding the institutional).
This sounds right to me.