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Chile's Bishops Offer To Resign After Sex Abuse Cover Up


All of Chile's 34 Catholic bishops offered their resignation this past week in the wake of a massive sex abuse scandal there. The dramatic gesture came after Pope Francis called for an emergency meeting with the Chilean bishops and called their actions, or lack of action, grave negligence. For more, I'm joined by Ines San Martin of the digital site Crux. She covers the Vatican and is in Rome. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: A key figure in this scandal is Bishop Juan Barros. He's been accused of using his position to block an investigation of his mentor. Can you tell us more? Can you tell us a little bit about this scandal and where it came from?

SAN MARTIN: His mentor is Father Fernando Karadima, a man who's been found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors. Juan Barros is one of four Chilean bishops who was part of his inner circle. And the victims of Karadima, three of them specifically, have been very open in accusing Barros of being part of a cover up. They claim that he saw Karadima abusing them and did nothing. In 2015, Pope Francis decided to move this bishop, who was already a bishop by then, to the southern diocese of Osorno, which generated the uproar that, at the end, led to what we're seeing here this week in Rome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So there was - yeah, a great amount of fury in Chile over this. And the pope previously defended Barros, right?

SAN MARTIN: Pope Francis openly defended Barros until January when he was in Chile. Even then, he actually openly defended Barros. Now, what we saw after that trip to Chile - Pope Francis talked to us journalists on the plane. And he was very clear saying, I need proof. I need evidence. I haven't received it yet. And until I don't, Bishop Barros will remain in his post. Ten days later, however, he decided to send two Vatican investigators to actually look into the case of Bishop Barros, which led to a much deeper dive. They - you know, these two people the pope sent spoke with 64 people, produced a 2,300 pages report. For what Francis told, the bishops actually found them, or at least some of them, guilty of committing actual crimes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This past week, the pope reportedly told the bishops, quote, "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." And so we have now all these bishops resigning. Can you tell me how significant that is? I mean, it seems pretty remarkable that they've done this.

SAN MARTIN: It is pretty remarkable. However, these men remain in active duty. We have to wait and see if not only will the pope accept the resignations but will - what measures will be taken against them to actually make them responsible and accountable for their sins and crimes?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what could that be? What could that look like?

SAN MARTIN: To be honest, this is so unprecedented that it's hard to tell. There could be canonical trials against these men. Some of them could be laicized. Some of them could be sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer, which means they will be taken out of active ministry. What is also very important is to see, what do the Chilean civil authorities do? Because, of course, the Vatican doesn't actually have the power to put a man in prison.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So waiting for the next step. Do you think that this does send a message that sexual abuse will no longer be tolerated within the Catholic Church?

SAN MARTIN: This definitely sends a message. I mean, it's important to say that the popes have long stated that there is fewer tolerance within the church to cases of sexual abuse. However, evidence has shown us that, despite the speeches, despite the awards, there's still a lot that needs to be done. That does include making people accountable, but it goes far beyond that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Crux Vatican correspondent Ines San Martin, who joined us via Skype. Ines, thank you very much.

SAN MARTIN: No, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.