Pope begins purge in Chilean church over sex abuse scandal

Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the bishop at the centre of Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal

Pope Francis accepted the resignation Monday of the bishop at the centre of Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal and two others, launching a purge of a Catholic Church that has lost its credibility under an avalanche of accusations of abuse and coverup.

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. Of the three, only the 61-year-old Barros is below the retirement age of 75.

Francis named temporary leaders for each of the dioceses.

RELATED: Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools

Barros has been at the centre 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.

Barros denied the charge, but he joined 30 of Chile’s other active bishops in offering their resignations to Francis at an extraordinary Vatican summit last month. Francis had summoned Chile’s church leaders to Rome after realizing he had made “grave errors in judgment” about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during his troubled visit to Chile in January.

Barros’ removal, which had been expected, was met with praise by abuse survivors and Catholics in Osorno, who warned, though, that more resignations and actions must follow to heal the devastation wrought by the scandal.

“A new day has begun in Chile’s Catholic Church!” tweeted Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor who denounced Barros for years and pressed for the Vatican to take action.

“I’m thrilled for all those who have fought to see this day,” he said. “The band of delinquent bishops … begins to disintegrate today.”

Francis realized he had misjudged the Chilean situation after meeting with Cruz and reading the 2,300-page report compiled by two leading Vatican investigators about the depth of Chile’s scandal, which has devastated the credibility of the church in a once overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country in the pope’s native Latin America.

Those two investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, are heading back to Chile on Tuesday to begin what the Vatican has said is a “healing” mission to Osorno.

By accepting Barros’ resignation on the eve of their arrival, Francis is essentially giving Scicluna and Bertomeu a hand in helping to heal the divisions in a diocese where Barros was never fully accepted as bishop.

But by also accepting the resignations of the two other bishops, Francis is making clear that the troubles in Chile’s church do not rest on Barros’ shoulders alone, or on those of the more than 40 other priests and three other bishops trained by the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima, a powerful preacher close to Chile’s elite, to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his sex crimes. But the Scicluna-Bertomeu report exposed a far bigger scandal that has implicated several religious orders, including priests and brothers in the Franciscans, Legion of Christ, Marist Brothers and Salesian orders.

It also exposed evidence that the Chilean hierarchy systematically covered up and minimized abuse cases, destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church investigators to discredit abuse accusations and showing “grave negligence” in protecting children from pedophile priests.

Those findings, which leaked to the media while the Chilean bishops were at the Vatican, have opened a Pandora’s Box of new accusations that recently led Francis to become the first pope to refer to a “culture of abuse and coverup” in the Catholic Church.

The biggest new scandal involved revelations of a gay priest sex ring in the Rancagua diocese of the bishop who headed the Chilean church’s sex abuse prevention commission. To date 14 priests in Rancagua have been suspended and the bishop resigned as head of the commission after admitting he was slow to act on accusations that a minor had been abused.

RELATED: Korean unity at Vatican? Not so fast, but pope cheers anyway

Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who fiercely opposed Barros, said Francis’ acceptance of the resignation signalled “the end of the damage” that the pope himself had inflicted on the diocese by appointing Barros in the first place.

Claros said Barros’ exit was the “minimum condition” to begin a dialogue with the Vatican to try to rebuild peace in the diocese, and he called for a process to find “truth, justice and reparation” for the damage caused.

“Bishop Barros has ceased being bishop but he hasn’t stopped being a brother in the faith, and for this if he too wants to seek forgiveness he is called to take part and assume his responsibilities,” Claret said.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

More burning prohibitions rescinded in southeast B.C.

Category 2 and 3 fires will be permitted in Southeast Fire Centre as of 1p.m. on Wednesday.

B.C. parents leery of HPV cervical cancer vaccine

Provincial registration uptake among lowest in Canada

Municipal spending outpaces population growth 4-fold in B.C.: report

Canadian Federation of Independent Business has released its annual operational spending report

Winlaw preemie survives smoky birth

GoFundMe Campaign started for West Kootenay family with preemie baby.

Youth on the Loose: Centre takes trip to Whatshan Lake

The trip was organized by the Nakusp and Area Youth Network

VIDEO: Messages of hope, encouragement line bars of B.C. bridge

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide and may not be appropriate for all audiences.

The longest week: Carolinas worn out by Florence

Frustration and sheer exhaustion are building as thousands of people wait to go home seven days after the storm began battering the coast.

Vancouver councillors move ahead with policy for duplexes on detached home lots

Mayor Gregor Robertson says the decision is another step toward adding homes in the city for the so-called “missing middle.”

Canada’s goal is to play in a medal game at World Cup in Spain

The 2014 women’s world basketball championships were a coming out party for Canada.

World Anti-Doping Agency reinstates Russia

There was no mention of Russia publicly accepting a state-sponsored conspiracy to help its athletes win Olympic medals by doping.

Nanaimo’s Tilray pot stock continues rising, firm now worth more than $21 billion US

The B.C. company’s shares have risen more than 1,000 % since its initial public offering in July

Fresh-faced Flames fend off Canucks 4-1

Vancouver drops second straight NHL exhibition contest

VIDEO: B.C. deer struggles with life-preserver caught in antlers

Campbell River resident captures entangled deer on camera

Most Read