Pope accepts resignation of three bishops over Chile sexual abuse scandal

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Anti-abuse activists called the move the Vatican's first concrete step in the South American country to purge a corrupt church hierarchy implicated in decades of sexual mistreatment and official stonewalling. He's seen here during Pope Francis's visit to Chile in January.

He later apologised to victims, following criticism from Cardinal Sean O'Malley, a Vatican pointman on clerical sex abuse.

Victims of the scandal hailed the removal of Barros, who has always denied allegations that he witnessed and covered up sexual abuse cases. But the pope had not responded officially to the offer until Monday, when he accepted the resignation of the three prelates. 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.

According to the report, the church administrators were appointed to run all three diocese.

A number of high-ranking Catholic clergy in Chile have been accused by victims of turning a blind eye to or hushing up sex offenses committed by the pedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s. Now 87, Karadima was never prosecuted criminally.

Barros struck a contrite tone in a statement issued Monday.

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.

The installation of Juan Barros as bishop of the southern city of Osorno in 2015 met with stiff resistance. He had been named a bishop by John Paul II in 1995.

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It is not yet known how many, if any, more of Chile's bishops will depart from office.

The pope later apologized to victims of Chile's sexual abuse scandal.

Francis realized he had misjudged the Chilean situation after meeting with Cruz and reading a 2,300-page report compiled by two leading Vatican investigators about the depth of Chile's scandal. But profound distrust still remains, and new charges of abuse and cover-ups have been aired publicly.

A short time later, the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending Archbishop Scicluna and Fr Bertomeu to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

In addition to the 61-year-old Barros, of Osorno, the pope accepted the resignations of Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt. The problem of abuse in the country, it was clear to him, went far beyond just the case of Bishop Barros.

"He (the pope) said, "I was part of the problem, I caused this", Cruz added. "Is it fair to ask for forgiveness?"

The decision of whether to accept the bishops' resignations is up to Pope Francis.

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