VATICAN CITY – In the biggest shake-up yet in the Catholic Church's long-running sex abuse scandal, every active Chilean bishop offered to resign Friday over what Pope Francis said was their “grave negligence” in investigating abuse and protecting children.
The bishops announced at the end of an emergency Vatican summit that all 31 active bishops in Rome had signed a document offering to resign.
Francis can accept the resignations, reject them or delay a decision, and the bishops remain in place until he acts. But the symbolic significance of an entire national bishops' conference resigning en masse because they covered-up for pedophiles marked a historic moment in the decades-long saga.
“We want to ask forgiveness for the pain we caused victims, the pope, the people of God and our country for the grave errors and omissions that we committed,” the bishops said in a statement.
It marked the first known time that an entire national bishops conference had offered to quit over a scandal, and laid bare the devastation the abuse crisis has caused the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond.
Calls for mass resignations had mounted after details emerged of the contents of a 2,300-page Vatican report into the Chilean scandal leaked early Friday. Francis had cited the report in a 10-page document he handed over to each Chilean bishop at the start of the summit.
In the document, Francis accused the bishops of destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church investigators to minimize abuse accusations and showing “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophile priests.
“No one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others,” Francis wrote in the document.
Francis had summoned the 34 bishops 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 after Francis received the report written by two Vatican sex crimes experts sent to Chile to assess the problem.
The whole report hasn't been made public, but even the highlights Francis included in his footnotes were astonishing. The gravity of the accusations appeared to lay the foundation for a full-scale Vatican investigation of Chilean dioceses, seminaries and religious orders. Such an investigation was ordered up after a similar 2010 summit that Pope Benedict XVI called for Irish bishops over their dismal record dealing with abuse.
Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops were among the 31 who offered to resign.
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.