Pope Francis begins purge in Chilean church over sex abuse scandal
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis began purging Chile’s Catholic hierarchy on Monday over an avalanche of sex abuse and cover-up cases, starting with accepting the resignations of the bishop at the centre of the scandal and two others.
More heads were expected to roll, given that the scandal has only grown in the weeks since all of Chile’s 30-plus active bishops offered to quit over their collective guilt in failing to protect Chile’s children from priests who raped, groped and molested them.
A Vatican statement said Francis had accepted the resignations of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt.
He named a temporary leader for each diocese.
Barros, 61, has been at the center of Chile’s growing scandal ever since Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno in 2015 over the objections of the local faithful, his own sex abuse prevention advisers and some of Chile’s other bishops.
They questioned Barros’ suitability to lead given he had been a top lieutenant of Chile’s most notorious predator priest and had been accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse by that priest.
Barros denied the charge, but he twice offered to resign in the ensuing years. Last month, he joined the rest of Chile’s bishops in offering to step down during an extraordinary Vatican summit.
Francis had summoned Chile’s church leaders to Rome after realising he had made “grave errors in judgement” about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during a visit to Chile in January.
In a statement Monday, Barros asked forgiveness “for my limitations and what I couldn't’t handle.” He thanked the pope for his concern for the common good and said he prayed “that one day all the truth will shine.”
Barros’ removal, which had been expected, was praised by abuse survivors and Catholics in Osorno. Some said more housecleaning now is needed to heal the devastation wrought by the scandal.