A mass resignation could mark a new era in child protection

The clerical abuse crisis is global. Its causes are complex and its roots are deep. The situation in Chile represents in microcosm the problems facing the whole Church – problems that are not going to be solved in the short term, and will not go away on their own.

Much of the commentary on the crisis – especially in its latest developments, with regard to the unprecedented resignation en masse of the entire Chilean episcopate – has focused on what it all means, and on what messages are being sent to and from various quarters. In short: the commentary has been long on interpretation, and short on figuring out what is going on.

Pope Francis has been praised for an apparent return to active reformer-form after several grievous and essentially reactionary missteps. That may not really be the case, though (and whether he ever deserved the active reformer label in the first place is debatable). In particular, he has been hailed for decisiveness and political savvy in connection with the resignations.

The Chilean bishops, meanwhile, have faced criticism essentially for having saddled the Pope with what is, in the main, a problem of their making, not his ­– whatever his failures of governance are or prove to have been. At this point, though, one thing is certain: that Pope Francis now owns the crisis entirely, not only in its Chilean theatre, but also worldwide.

It is fair to assume that the motivations of the bishops of Chile for agreeing to submit their resignations – we still do not know the precise circumstances under which they were submitted – are varied and complex: some of the bishops will have desired to avoid investigation and prosecution. Others will have wanted to demonstrate their willingness not only to lead, but to be led. Still others will have gone along with the crowd.

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