Pope accepts two more resignations of Chile bishops over sex abuse

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis accepted on Thursday the resignation of two more Chilean bishops caught up in the country’s sexual abuse scandal, the Vatican said, bringing to five the number he has accepted so far.

Bishops Alejandro Goic Karmelic of the city of Rancagua and Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela Abarca of the city of Talca would be replaced by commissioners, known as apostolic administrators, a statement said.

Francis accepted the resignations of three other bishops on June 11. Last month all of Chile’s 34 bishops offered to resign en masse after a meeting with the pope over allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse..

Goic, 78, is known in Chile for denouncing human rights abuses during the military regime of Augusto Pinochet.

He headed the Chilean bishops’ conference’s advisory panel on sexual abuse, but resigned from the panel in May and apologized in a statement for not acting swiftly when allegations of sexual abuse by priests in his diocese were first brought to his attention.

He suspended 14 priests and last week his office was raided by prosecutors investigating the case.

“He trusted people and unfortunately he was wrong,” Marcial Sanchez, a historian of Chile’s Catholic Church, told Reuters on Thursday. “He should have launched an investigation sooner. He might have stopped many victims from suffering more, and he has recognized that.”

Valenzuela, 64, was one of four bishops trained for the priesthood decades ago by Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious abuser.

Karadima was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s. Now 87 and living in a nursing home in Chile, he has always denied any wrongdoing.

Gustavo Madrid, a member of the laity in Talca who campaigned for Valenzuela’s removal, said it was a “first step” to making people “believe in the church once again”.

Francis told Reuters in an exclusive interview at his residence on June 17 that he was considering accepting the resignations of more Chilean bishops.

The scandal came to a head after the Argentine pontiff visited Chile in January and later dispatched an investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta.

Scicluna produced a 2,300-page report accusing Chile’s bishops of “grave negligence” in investigating allegations that children were abused and has said evidence of sex crimes was destroyed.

Reporting by Philip Pullella and Aislinn Laing, editing by Steve Scherer, David Stamp and Susan Thomas