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

CHN seeks injunction against logging at Collison Point

Weeks after ordering an end to a blockade there, the B.C. Supreme… Continue reading

Talking toads on Haida Gwaii

Researcher to share the latest on protecting Haida Gwaii’s only native amphibian

Divided worldviews at play in debate over ocean fertilization

New study looks at attitudes that shaped reaction to controversial experiment off Haida Gwaii

Tlellagraph: Breathing, beach parties, and being happy at home

By Janet Rigg I’m going to take you back in time, to… Continue reading

B.C. turns up the heat

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for most the province due to high temperatures

Homeless people living on ‘Surrey Strip’ move into modular housing

BC Housing says 160 homeless people are being moved into temporary Whalley suites from June 19 to 21

Port of Prince Rupert names Shaun Stevenson as new CEO

Stevenson has worked for the port for 21 years as vice president of trade development

Senate officially passes Canada’s marijuana legalization bill

Bill C-45 now moves to royal assent, which is the final step in the legislative process

Fake attempted abduction not funny to B.C. neighbourhood residents

Two teenage boys won’t face criminal charges after scaring girl

Mosquitoes out in full force already? Blame the weather

But a B.C. mosquito expert says the heat wave will help keep the pests at bay

Man pleads not guilty in 1987 slayings of B.C. couple

William Talbott of SeaTac was arraigned Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court

New GOP plan: Hold kids longer at border – but with parents

Move would ease rules that limit how much time minors can be held with their parents

Without a big data strategy, Canadians at risk of being ‘data cows’

Presentation said artificial intelligence could give Facebook and Amazon even more power

Five B.C. families stuck in Japan as Canada refuses visas for adopted babies

Lawyer points to change in American policy around adoptions from Japan

Most Read