Pope Francis accepted the resignation Monday of the bishop at the center of Chile's clerical sex abuse scandal and two others, launching the purge of a Catholic Church that has lost its credibility under an avalanche of accusations of abuse and cover-up.
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 of each of the dioceses.
Barros 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.
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.
Francis had realized his errors after 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.
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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.
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 bishops trained by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican in 2011 for his sex crimes.