Pope accepts resignation of two more Chilean bishops following abuse scandal

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of two more Chilean bishops, the Vatican said on Friday, in his latest move to confront a widening worldwide sexual abuse scandal.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis talks as he meets with young people at the Politeama square in Palermo, Italy, September 15, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

They brought to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down since all of the country’s 34 bishops offered their resignations en masse during an emergency meeting with the pope in May over allegations of a cover-up.

That meeting was held after Vatican investigators produced a 2,300-page report alleging that senior Church officials in Chile had failed to act on abuse claims and in some cases hid them.

With the latest resignations, the pope has removed the leadership of about 20 percent of the Latin American country’s dioceses.

The Vatican said the two latest resignations were those of Bishop Carlos Eduardo Pellegrín Barrera of the diocese of San Bartolomé de Chillán, and Bishop Cristián Enrique Contreras Molina of the diocese of San Felipe.

The bishops could not be immediately contacted for comment.

In both cases, Francis appointed other bishops as commissioners, known as Apostolic Administrators, to run the dioceses until further notice.

In the past few months, Chilean prosecutors and police have launched raids on the offices of several dioceses as part of investigations looking for new cases of sexual abuse or evidence that Church officials concealed abuse from authorities.

Chile’s bishops conference has said it was committed to collaborating with civil authorities on accusations of abuse.

The latest resignations also come as the Catholic Church is facing sexual abuse scandals in other countries including the United States, Australia and Germany.

Francis has summoned the heads of national Catholic bishops from around the world to the Vatican to discuss the protection of minors at an extraordinary meeting from Feb. 21-24.

Der Spiegel magazine reported earlier this month that a study commissioned by the German Bishops’ Conference had revealed that 1,670 clerics and priests had sexually abused 3,677 minors, mostly males, in Germany over a 70-year period.

In the United States, a Grand Jury has found that 301 priests in the state of Pennsylvania sexually abused minors over a similar period.

Francis has also been hit by demands from an Italian archbishop, Carlo Maria Vigano, that he step down over the case of former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

In a bombshell document released in August, Vigano, the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, said the pope knew for years about sexual misconduct by McCarrick with adult male seminarians but did nothing about it..

The pope has not responded to Vigano’s accusations, saying that the archbishop’s document “speaks for itself”. The Vatican is expected to produce a rebuttal.

McCarrick resigned in July over separate allegations - which U.S. Church officials said were “credible and substantiated” - that he had abused a 16-year-old boy almost 50 years ago.

McCarrick, whom the pope ordered to live a life of seclusion and penitence, has said he has “absolutely no recollection” of such an incident. He has not commented on the allegations of misconduct with the adult seminarians.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Crispian Balmer and Toby Chopra