PAUL COLLINS Stop the Buck-passing and Resign.

President Harry S. Truman promised that ‘the buck stops here’. Well, last Friday afternoon Rome time, the Chilean bishops—all thirty-four of them—decided to stop the buck-passing and ‘face the music’, that is confront the consequences of their pretty-much complete failure to deal with the sexual abuse crisis. They all offered to resign. What are the implications for the Australian bishops?

Accurate religious statistics are hard to ascertain, but of Chile’s seventeen million people, about 55%-60% are Catholic, 16% Protestant/Evangelical, and about 25% non-believers. In the seventies and eighties, the Chilean church was a model of renewal along Vatican II lines, with a healthy admixture of liberation theology, pastoral care and decent episcopal leadership.

Although a well-established democracy, the country suffered a military coup led by army commander Augusto Pinochet in September 1973, with the active support of the CIA.

The church, led by Cardinal Raul Silva, archbishop of Santiago (1961-1983), was a bastion of human rights opposition to the Junta by supporting victims of the DINA (secret police) and searching for the missing. Silva’s successor, Cardinal Juan Fresno, maintained this policy and facilitated the talks that led eventually to elections and the fall of Pinochet in 1990. Chilean Catholicism stood in stark contrast to the Argentinian church where bishops accepted or actively supported a vicious Junta from 1976 to 1982.

But a powerful force was at work to subvert the Chilean church along reactionary lines. Reshaping the episcopate was one Angelo Sodano, papal nuncio from 1977-1988. Sodano advocated the ‘national security state’ concept, supporting military dictatorships continent-wide and was personally close to Pinochet. He discouraged criticism of government and made sure only conformist conservatives were appointed bishops. Appointed papal Secretary of State in 1988, Sodano still influenced bishops’ appointments in Chile and slowly the episcopate was transmuted into a clericalist enclave.

One of the most influential figures in this reactionary church was the priest Fernando Karadima, pastor of El Bosque, a wealthy Santiago suburb and home to many associated with the Pinochet regime. Karadima’s personality cult influenced many young men, with four of them becoming priests and then bishops. But he was also a chronic abuser of male youths and boys.

Karadima’s sexual abuse was well known to the hierarchy, particularly to Santiago Cardinal Francesco Errázuriz and his successor Ricardo Ezzati. But Errázuriz and Ezzati dug-in and it was the Chilean secular media that eventually forced a Vatican investigation, leading to Karadima being ordered in 2011 into a ‘secluded life of prayer and penance.’ A statute of limitations prevented a civil prosecution.

After Pope Francis made the worst mistake of his papacy by ordering the 2015 transfer of one of Karadima’s bishop-disciples, Juan Barros Madrid, to the southern diocese of Osorno against the wishes of local priests and people, the whole affair blew-up. After vigorously and foolishly defending Barros during his tense January 2018 visit to Chile, Francis sent respected abuse investigator, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna to Chile.

The archbishop’s detailed report showed that the pope had made a grave error of judgment regarding Barros and that the Karadima affair was the tip of the abuse iceberg. It led to a genuine apology by Francis to victims and particularly to the three men who had pursued the Karadima issue with Errázuriz and Ezzati.

While these and other Chilean bishops must go, it shouldn’t be forgotten that a pastoral, social justice-oriented church was subverted by Sodano appointing a bevy of bishops whose horizons were intra-mural, clericalist and defensive. Compared by Jason Berry to Henry Kissinger, Sodano was ‘a practitioner of realpolitik,’ with no pastoral sense whatsoever.

This brings us to Australia.

Here the Royal Commission has produced overwhelming evidence of a systematic cover-up by church leaders of criminal child abuse. So why haven’t the Australian bishops offered their resignations en masse?

Well, first they haven’t embarrassed Francis by feeding him bad advice. Second, he has little affinity with the anglophone world. Francis tends to deal with what’s immediately in front of him and Australia is far away. So, the local bishops feel no papal pressure and keep a low profile.

Third, people claim resignation ‘isn’t the Catholic way’ because bishops are fathers and you can’t resign fatherhood. Nonsense! They failed as fathers when they did nothing about child abuse in their dioceses. And according to Saint Paul in the church ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). In other words: we’re equal. ‘We have one father, who is in heaven’ (Matthew 23:9). And let’s be real here: no mature Catholic thinks of the bishop as ‘father’ when many of them are clerically immature, lacking the emotional intelligence for genuine leadership.

The simple fact is that in the real-world business leaders and executives would be sacked for the gross incompetence shown by the bishops. Its about time some ‘real world’ standards were applied to the church. The time has come for the Australian episcopate to emulate their Chilean colleagues and resign en masse. But my advice is: don’t hold your breath folks!

Paul Collins’ latest book is Absolute Power. How the pope became the most influential man in the world (Public Affairs, 2018).



Paul Collins is an historian, broadcaster and writer. A Catholic priest for thirty-three years, he resigned from the active ministry in 2001 following a dispute with the Vatican over his book Papal Power (1997). He is the author of fifteen books. The most recent is Absolute Power. How the pope became the most influential man in the world (Public Affairs, 2018). A former head of the religion and ethics department in the ABC, he is well known as a commentator on Catholicism and the papacy and also has a strong interest in ethics, environmental and population issues.

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9 Responses to PAUL COLLINS Stop the Buck-passing and Resign.

  1. Avatar John Challis says:

    The most appalling thing that Paul Collins reveals is that ” in the seventies and eighties, he Chilean Church was a model of renewal along Vatican II lines” and, within a generation, it was transmuted into a corrupt clericalist enclave, by one man, Papal Nuncio, later Vatican Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, protege and agent of “saint” John Paul II.

    John Paul should hand back his halo, or have it revoked.

  2. Avatar Joan Seymour says:

    Is it too cynical to suggest, as does the Catholic Herald, that the mass resignation (or offer of resignation) of the Chilean bishops is a way of protecting the guilty individuals? Not all the Chilean bishops concealed a malefactor. But by resigning en masse, they allow the episcopal malefactors to walk away with the innocent. The Pope would do well to accept no resignations until the accused bishops have been formally tried, whether this is by the secular authorities, or by Church law if there is no breach of secular law. Pope Francis himself could make a very powerful symbolic gesture by resigning – but not until he’s changed canon law to eliminate the papal secret. If he can’t do it, no-one else will.

  3. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Right! Time for Australian church heads, bishops – whatever – to resign – a proper flushing out of the Augean Stables of sexual assault and cover-up and abuse of power. When George Pell is finally found guilty and locked up – all the bishops of the Catholic Church here in Australia will have no other option BUT to resign – they are all implicated in one way or another.

  4. Avatar Kieran Tapsell says:

    While the Chilean bishops who covered up child sexual abuse have to take responsibility for their actions – following orders is no excuse – the buck for those orders lays at the feet of every pope since Pius XI who in 1922 imposed the strictest secrecy over information about child sexual abuse by clerics. That secrecy was confirmed and expanded by every pope since. The buck currently lies at the feet of Pope Francis, who despite the requests of two United Nations Committees to abolish the pontifical secret and provide for mandatory reporting under canon law, and despite the findings of three judicial committees in the United States, Ireland and most recently Australia, on the contribution made by the pontifical secret to the cover up and hence more abuse, he has refused to lift his pen to change it. In March 2014, the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference announced that Italian bishops would not report allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy to the civil authorities because under the 1929 Lateran Treaty, Italian law did not require it. This announcement was consistent with canon law. Pope Francis said nothing to disagree with that. If, as Primate of Italy, he follows canon law, he will cover up child sexual abuse in his own diocese of Rome. The Royal Commission was blunt: “The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference should request the Holy See to amend canon law so that the pontifical secret does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse.” If the Chilean bishops should resign, then so should Pope Francis because canon law still requires the cover up wherever the Church can get away with it, ie. where there are no or inadequate reporting laws, like in Italy, and currently every State of Australia except New South Wales and Victoria.

  5. Avatar Trish Martin says:

    The elitist culture of a monarchy which the Catholic church is, means that bishops and cardinals are beholden to none but their own hierarchy. When one reads your account of the Chilean bishops it makes sense to ask: Where is Jesus Christ in all this corrupt, evil activity which is an absolute abuse of ordained power? The Chilean bishops have only resigned because they have been exposed and brought kicking and screaming to the truth about their betrayal of God’s innocent children. I expect Australian bishops don’t have the courage to own up and resign, or even to face the fact that their model of Catholic church bears very little resemblance to the teachings and discipleship model that Jesus wanted.

  6. Avatar Garry Everett says:

    Thanks Paul for the analysis in Chile, and the challenge to Australia.
    Like you I will not be holding my breath hoping for truth and justice to prevail.
    My scepticism is deepened by the decision to hold the Plenary Council. o my mind this is an attempt by the Australian Bishops to divert attention away from the findings of the Royal Commission Yes we have introduced Safeguarding Policies and there will be some group to follow up the Commission, but all the money , time and people will be devoted to listening to ideas about which a local/national Church can do very little.
    Just as Sodano led the Church into error, so too the Catholic Bishops of Australia seem determined to ignore the central issue of changing the clerical culture, and determined to lead the Church down the path to feeling good about being listened to –as though we should be grateful for such a magnanimous gesture .

  7. Avatar R. N. England says:

    I have wondered if the Chilean bishops’ offer to resign en masse was more a signal of solidarity against Pope Francis. Were they asserting that if he stuck his liberal nose into their business, they would throw the Chilean Church’s administration into such turmoil, and cause him such a headache, that he had better give up trying?

    • Avatar Graham English says:

      Perhaps you are right but the resignation of all the bishops need not throw the Church into turmoil. I’m sure there are some very competent Catholics, men and women in Chile who could carry out the New Testament criteria for a presbyter. My reaction to people who offer their resignations in the belief you cannot do without them is that you need to accept it straight away and then get on with things. No one is indispensable and some of these fellows have shown they are very dispensable indeed.

  8. Eric Hodgens Eric Hodgens says:

    And the day this is published Archbishop Wilson is convicted of concealing child abuse. Repercusions will be felt in Australia.

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