VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Every Chilean bishop offered to resign Friday over a sex abuse and cover-up scandal, in the biggest shakeup ever in the Catholic Church's long-running abuse saga.
The bishops announced at the end of an emergency summit with Pope Francis that all 31 active bishops and three retired ones in Rome had signed a document offering to resign and putting their fate in the hands of the pope. Francis can accept the resignations one by one, reject them or delay a decision.
It marked the first known time in history that an entire national bishops conference had offered to resign en masse over scandal, and laid bare the devastation that the abuse crisis has caused the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond.
In one of the most damning documents from the Vatican in the decades-long, global sex abuse saga, Francis said the entire Chilean church hierarchy was collectively responsible for "grave defects" in handling cases and the resulting loss of credibility that the Catholic Church has suffered.
The 10-page document, reported by Chile's T13 television and confirmed as accurate Friday by the Vatican, puts mounting pressure on the bishops as a whole to resign given Francis told them that "no one can exempt himself and place the problem on the shoulders of the others."
The bishops are due to hold a news conference in Rome later Friday.
Some of these religious order priests and brothers were expelled from their congregations because of immoral conduct, but had their cases "minimized of the absolute gravity of their criminal acts, attributing to them mere weakness or moral lapses," Francis wrote.
But those same people "were then welcomed into other dioceses, in an obviously imprudent way, and given diocesan or parish jobs that gave them daily contact with minors," he said.
Such behavior has been the hallmark of the clerical sex abuse crisis worldwide, with bishops and religious superiors shuttling abusers from parish to parish or dioceses rather than reporting them to police or launching canonical investigations and removing them from ministry.
Francis said he was also "perplexed and ashamed" by the report's evidence that there were "pressures exercised" on church officials tasked with investigating sex crimes "including the destruction of compromising documents on the part of those in charge of ecclesiastic archives."
He said such behavior showed "an absolute lack of respect for the canonical process and worse, reprehensible practices that must be avoided in the future."
He said the problem wasn't limited to a group of people, but can be traced to the training Chilean priests receive in seminary, blaming the "profound fracture" within the church on the seminaries themselves. The Vatican investigation, he said, contained "grave accusations against some bishops and superiors who sent to these educational institutions priests suspected of active homosexuality."
The harsh assessment of the quality of seminaries suggests that a possible next step might be a full-on Vatican investigation of Chilean schools of priestly training. Pope Benedict XVI ordered such an investigation into Irish seminaries after he convened the entire Irish bishops' conference for a similar dressing-down in 2010 over their dismal handling of abuse cases.
"The problems inside the church community can't be solved just by dealing with individual cases and reducing them to the removal of people, though this -- and I say so clearly -- has to be done," Francis wrote. "But it's not enough, we have to go beyond that. It would be irresponsible on our part to not look deeply into the roots and the structures that allowed these concrete events to occur and perpetuate."
For years, sex abuse victims have blasted the Chilean hierarchy for discrediting their claims, protecting abusers and moving them around rather than reporting them to police and then handing out light sentences when church sanctions were imposed.
Based on Francis' footnotes, the Vatican investigation compiled by the Catholic Church's top abuse prosecutor, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and his aide, Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, gave full credibility to the victims.
Francis, though, has also been implicated in the scandal, and in his document saying all Chilean bishops bore blame he added "and me first of all."
Francis first drew scorn from victims, ordinary Chileans and even members of his sex abuse advisory board by appointing Barros bishop of Osorno, Chile, in 2015.
The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Francis did so over the objections of other Chilean bishops who knew Barros' past was problematic and had recommended he and other Karadima-trained bishops resign and take a sabbatical.
The AP subsequently reported that Francis had received a letter in 2015 from one of Karadima's most vocal accusers, Juan Carlos Cruz, detailing Barros' misdeeds. That letter undercut Francis' claim to have never heard from victims about Barros.
Francis further enraged Chileans and drew sharp rebuke from his top abuse adviser when, during a January trip to Chile, he said the accusations against Barros were "calumny" and said he was "certain" he was innocent.
After receiving the Scicluna-Bertomeu report, though, Francis did an about-face. Blaming a "lack of truthful and balanced information" about the case for his missteps, Francis invited the three main whistleblowers to the Vatican hotel he calls home so he could apologize in person.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.