Pope Francis accepts resignation of three Chilean bishops after sex abuse scandal – and more are expected to go
Vatican says the move might only be the first as church tries to restore order in Chile, where cover-up of child sex abuses has roiled congregants
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of three Chilean bishops following sex abuse scandals, including Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, the city at the centre of the uproar, the Vatican said on Monday.
In an unprecedented move, all 34 Chilean bishops offered to resign en masse last month after attending a meeting with the pope over allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse in the country’s archdioceses.
A Vatican official said that Monday’s move represented a first step towards re-ordering the battered Roman Catholic Church in Chile and that the pope was still considering the positions of the other prelates.
Besides Barros, 61, the pope also agreed to the departures of Cristian Caro Cordero, bishop of Puerto Montt, and Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortazar, bishop of Valparaiso, who had both reached the customary retirement age of 75.
Church administrators were appointed to run all three dioceses.
Victims of the scandal hailed the removal of Barros, who has always denied allegations that he witnessed and covered up sexual abuse cases.
“Today begins a new day for the Catholic Church in Chile and hopefully the world,” Juan Carlos Cruz, the key witness in the abuse case, wrote on Twitter.
“We hope this is the beginning of the end of this culture of abuse and cover up in the Church. Emotional but great day!”
Jaime Coiro, general secretary of the Chilean Catholic Church, noted that the pope has said the case will require short, medium and long-term measures. “We therefore can’t rule out the possibility that he could take further steps,” Coiro added.
Pope Francis promised last month to Chilean Catholics scarred by a culture of clergy sexual abuse that “never again” would the church ignore them or the cover-up of abuse in their country.
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.
Victims accused Barros of having witnessed the abuse but doing nothing to stop it. Barros was named bishop of Osorno in 2015 by Pope Francis, who ignored objections from some clergy and church-goers.
During a trip to Chile in January, the pope staunchly defended Barros, saying he believed he was innocent, and that accusations against him were “slander” until proven otherwise.
But days after returning to Rome, a chastened pope, citing new information, sent sexual abuse investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to Chile to speak to victims, witnesses and other church members.
He produced a 2,300-page report, which accused Chile’s bishops of “grave negligence” in investigating allegations that children had been abused and found that evidence of sex crimes had been destroyed.
Scicluna is due to return to Chile this week to gather more information.