VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has said he could accept the resignations of more Chilean bishops following a sexual abuse scandal that has shattered the credibility of the Roman Catholic Church in the South American country.
The pope has already accepted the resignations of three bishops, and all Chile’s remaining bishops have offered to resign after allegations that the abuse, including of children, was covered up.
The scandal was “the work of the spirit of evil,” the pope told Reuters in an interview at his residence in the Vatican.
Asked whether he would accept more resignations, the pontiff said: “Maybe some.”
“I still have to accept the resignations of two (bishops) who have exceeded the age limit. But maybe there’s someone else whose resignation I will accept. In one case, I asked that he be given the accusations in order to give him the possibility to defend himself against the accusations and then we will see,” he said.
Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa, one of nine cardinals from around the world appointed by the pope to serve as his special advisers, has been accused by abuse survivors of discrediting victims and not investigating their cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Asked whether Errázuriz’s position was at risk on the C-9, the pope said: “The C-9 is not an honour, it’s a job. I do not want to get into the game of cutting heads and seeking scapegoats.”
The scandal revolves around Father Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s. Now 87 and living in a nursing home in Chile, he has always denied any wrongdoing.
Four of the about 40 men trained by Karadima for the priesthood later became bishops.
One of the bishops, Juan Barros of the southern city of Osorno, became the focal point of the investigation and is one of the bishops whose resignation the pope has already accepted.
“Many people would have been happy if I had just removed Barros and done nothing else. But no!” the pope said.
Barros has denied allegations that he witnessed and covered up sexual abuse cases.
The scandal came to a head when the Argentine pontiff visited Chile in January. He has since launched a Vatican investigation.
The pope’s sexual abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, has produced a 2,300-page report accusing Chile’s bishops of “grave negligence” in investigating allegations that children were abused and has said evidence of sex crimes was destroyed.
Pope Francis has promised Chilean Catholics that “never again” would the Church ignore them or the cover-up of abuse in their country.
“Families brought their children to Karadima because they believed that the doctrine was sound and they did not know what was happening in there,” he said in the interview.
“The Karadima problem is a very complex problem because there was a blend of the Chilean elite with socio-political situations.”
He called Karadima “a gravely disturbed person”.
The pope said he had returned from his visit to Chile with a feeling of disquiet about the situation there. He said he had summoned all the Chilean bishops to a meeting in Rome because it was “the only thing to do.”
“In the end they said: ‘We want you to feel free, we are all handing in our resignations’,” he said, describing their offer as “a generous gesture”.
The pope said he had wondered what had happened in Chile to cause a sharp drop in support for the Church.
“It’s a difficult phenomenon to understand. Some think it has something to do with a hidden elitism there, but this is just an opinion. Certainly it is the work of the spirit of evil,” he said.
Editing by Timothy Heritage