“I’m thrilled for all those who have fought to see this day,” he said. “The band of criminal bishops … begins to disintegrate today.”
The other two bishops whose resignations were accepted had submitted them prior to the pope’s summit after having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. But victims accused both of having botched cases in the past.
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.
The 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 essentially gave Scicluna and Bertomeu a hand in helping to heal the divisions in a diocese where Barros never was 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.
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.
Claret 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.