On May 17, 2018, all 34 of Chile’s Roman Catholic bishops offered their resignations in the wake of yet another child sex abuse scandal coming to light. The announcement came after Pope Francis called a crisis meeting to discuss the allegations; however, he has yet to accept their resignations.
Sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church have become a notable topic of discussion since the first allegations came to light in the 1980s. In Lafayette, La., Rev. Gilbert Gauthe was reported to the diocese by the father of one of the victims, after which the bishop offered settlements to affected families. One family refused and instead sued the diocese and publicly testified in court, which subsequently led to more victims coming forward.
A recent incident occured in Australia when the Archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was convicted of concealing child sexual abuse cases in the 1970s. Additionally, Australia’s third highest-ranking religious official Cardinal George Pell is standing trial for sexual offenses from decades prior.
Bishop Juan Barros was accused of being witness to the abuses of Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty of sexually abusing boys in the 1970s and 1980s. According to The New York Times, Karadima’s punishment by the Vatican was his relocation to a different parish and a life of “pray and penitence”.
According to another NYT article, Pope Francis had previously defended Barros, calling the claims against him slander. “There was not one shred of evidence against him,” Francis said.
The Pope’s response was not taken well, raising concerns in Chile over his commitment to justice for victims. He later apologized for what he had said, understanding the pain it caused the victims of sexual abuse, “Here I have to apologize because the word ‘proof’ hurt them,” he said on his return from a January 2018 visit of the country. “It hurt a lot of abused people.”
Three of the victims—Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and José Andrés Murillo—spent five days at the Vatican in order to personally meet with the pope. According to The Guardian, Cruz stated the pope acknowledged his part in the case in relation to his repeated defense of Barros. Cruz, a victim of Fernando Karadima, accused Barros of witnessing the abuse and doing nothing.
The resigning bishops wrote in a statement, “In communion with [the pope], we want to re-establish justice and contribute to repairing the damage caused.”