All 34 bishops in Chile have submitted their resignations to Pope Francis over an infamous child sex scandal and cover-up, asking for forgiveness from victims and the Roman Catholic Church for their “grave error and omissions.”
The unprecedented move in the Chilean church – which saw the mass resignation of its entire leadership – came shortly after a meeting with the pontiff over the scandal at the Vatican on Friday, marking the move, to date, as the most significant official acceptance of responsibility for abuse by members of the church hierarchy in the world.
It was, however, not immediately clear whether the resignations were accepted by the Pope, who responded to the bishops’ letter in the form of a 10-page document, accusing Chile's Church hierarchy of negligence in sex abuse cases.
“We are all involved, myself in first place, and no one can be exempted by looking to shift the problem onto the backs of others,” the pontiff reportedly wrote.
The scandal centers around Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused of misusing his position in the Catholic Church to try to obstruct a probe into his mentor, Fernando Karadima, an influential priest who was found guilty in 2011 by the Vatican of sexually abusing male minors in the 70s and 80s and later sentenced to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.”
Barros, now 61, had offered his resignation to the pontiff multiple times during the past seven years, but it was rejected as he was believed to be innocent of the cover-up allegations. This time, it is thought his offer to quit will be accepted.
The Pope was widely criticized in January when he defended Barros during a visit to Chile, saying the accusations against him should be classed as "slander" until proven otherwise.
Following the Pope’s controversial comments in support of Barros, at least nine churches were set ablaze or firebombed while multiple protests were held by those opposed to the bishop, who is widely accused of being very close to Karadima, now Chile's most notorious pedophile priest sacked by the Vatican in 2011.
The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by numerous scandals in the past few years, involving allegations of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests.
Pope Francis, who was appointed in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul the Vatican, has warned that there will be “no privileges” for bishops when it comes to child sex offenses. The pontiff has also promised more action in response to accusations of cover-up and excessive leniency by the Vatican.