Pope Francis spent three hours on Monday with leaders of the Chilean bishops’ conference who had asked to brief him on efforts to address clerical sex abuse and map out a future course.

The meeting was part of an extensive effort by the bishops to take action following the sexual abuse crisis in Chile.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bishop Fernando Ramos, secretary-general of the bishops' conference, said dealing with the fallout from the crisis is a “long process” as every institution in Chile has “lost a lot of credibility,” including the Church “because of our own sins and crimes.”

He said that during the meeting, they looked back together with the Pope “at the events of the last year and looked forward to the upcoming steps. 

“This and the next year will be the year of discernment, while in 2020 we will hold an ecclesial assembly,” he said.

Yesterday’s meeting followed the Pope's visit to Chile last January that was overshadowed by claims of sex abuse and cover-up that had been dismissed for years. 

The Pope himself was implicated having appointed Bishop Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno in 2015 and defended him in the face of accusations that the bishop had protected convicted abuser Fernando Karadima from sexual abuse charges. 

After commissioning an investigation into the Barros case and other abuse cases, the Pope later apologized, accepted Barros’ resignation and laicized Karadima. 

The official meeting on Monday took place in the apostolic palace, and lasted one hour. The Pope and the bishops then continued their discussion for two hours, having lunch together at the Pope’s Santa Marta residence.

According to Bishop Ramos, it was a “very fraternal, interesting and fruitful meeting,” and the Pope gave “important remarks, making several suggestions, showing awareness and concern for the Chilean Church.”

The delegation included Bishop Santiago Silva, military ordinary of Chile and president of the bishops’ conference; Bishop René Rebolledo of La Salinas, vice president of the conference; Ramos; Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago; and Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of San Bernardo.

 

Pending Resignations

Last year, the Pope summoned all the country’s bishops to Rome having said he was misinformed about the Barros case by the Chilean hierarchy. During the meeting, he asked all of them to submit their resignations. 

He has so far accepted seven of those resignations, but several more are expected. Two members of the delegation who visited on Monday are under investigation by Chilean prosecutors for their alleged roles in the cover-up of sexual abuse.

Bishop Ramos told reporters the resignation offers expired after three months, although a Vatican official told AP that there is no such expiration.

Late last year, Pope Francis removed the retired archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, from the Council of Cardinals advising him on Church reform. The cardinal had been accused of covering up the Karadima abuse case. 

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the current archbishop of Santiago, also participated in yesterday’s meetings. He, too, has been accused of covering up the Karadima case.  

Bishop Ramos said as Cardinal Ezzati is “77 years old and, as you know, at the age of 75 all the bishops present their resignations, the Pope will appoint a successor in his own time.”

The Pope also laicized last year two retired Chilean bishops: José Cox Huneeus, and Marco Antonio Ordenes Fernandez.

Chilean bishops are also taking steps. At the end of the investigation last May, the bishops’ conference announced that five lay people, experts of the Council for the Prevention of the Abuse, would be entrusted with collecting allegations of abuse.

Monday's meeting comes ahead of the Feb. 21-24 Vatican summit of bishops on protecting minors.

That meeting will aim to ensure that all those taking part return to their countries “absolutely clear about what must (and must not) be done with regard to addressing these cases,” according to the new editorial director of Vatican Media, Andrea Tornielli.

This includes steps that “must be taken to protect the victims, with respect for the truth and the people involved, in order to ensure that no more cases are stonewalled or covered up,” he said.