VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Thursday accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, the latest fallout from a sex abuse scandal whose scope and gravity were initially underestimated by the pontiff.
Last month all 31 of Chile’s active bishops offered to quit for collectively failing to protect children from pedophile priests.
The Vatican announced that Francis allowed Rancagua Bishop Alejandro Goic Karmelic and Talca Bishop Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela Abarca to resign, bringing to five the total number of resignations accepted so far.
In the region of the Rancagua diocese, 14 priests have been accused of having had sex with minors. Bishop Goic had served as head of the Chilean church’s child protection commission.
Francis had already accepted the resignation of Osorno Bishop Juan Barros, once a top aide to Chile’s most notorious predator priest. Originally Francis had been a staunch defender of Barros, dismissing outcries from many of Chile’s faithful, including some church officials, that the bishop was unfit for the office because he ignored abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
The Vatican in 2011 had sentenced Karadima to a life of penance and prayer for his sex crimes. Karadima had been a charismatic preacher with connections to some of Chile’s elite. Barros had denied assertions from victims that he had witnessed abuse by Karadima.
Barros had twice offered to resign his post, but Francis had steadfastly defended him. Then the pontiff radically changed his view after he invited to the Vatican abuse survivors, including one who had lobbied the Vatican for years to take action.
Two Vatican investigators, a Maltese archbishop and a Spanish priest, have reported their extensive findings to the pontiff. Their report exposed a scandal implicating several religious orders as well as evidence that the Chilean church hierarchy systematically covered up or minimized abuse, including pressuring church investigators to discredit those making abuse accusations.
Scandals revealing systematic abuse and cover-ups have stained the Catholic church in other countries as well, including the United States and Ireland. As more cases were exposed during his papacy, Francis has come to denounce what he calls a “culture of abuse and cover-up” in the Catholic church.
Criminal probes have been launched in several countries in addition to the church’s own in-house cleaning.
In Chile, prosecutors have launched raids on church offices, including in the diocese of Rancagua.
Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at twitter.com/fdemilio