Chilean cardinal says bishop should resign over abuse crisis

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The head of Chile’s Catholic Church said on Thursday that a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse should resign, little more than a week after Pope Frances said he had made mistakes in handling Chile’s sexual abuse crisis.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati told reporters that Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who allegedly concealed abuse of minors by his mentor Father Fernando Karadima, should resign “without a doubt,” while adding he would not judge “whether or not [Barros] had covered up” the incidents.

Barros did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Chilean Church’s call for his resignation follows a letter from Pope Francis earlier this month in which the Argentine pontiff said he had made “grave mistakes” in handling a sexual abuse crisis that has long racked the South American country.

Chile’s Catholic Church has since called for a “drastic solution” to the issue, but until now it had stopped short of calling for Barros to resign.

Barros, bishop of the city of Osorno in Chile’s south, has long denied accusations that he covered up the abuse, but the controversy dominated the Pope’s trip to Chile and Peru in January. Critics accused the pope of not understanding the depth of the crisis after he initially defended Barros, saying the bishop was a victim of slander.

In a turnaround, the Pope then assigned one of the Vatican’s most experienced sexual abuse investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to visit Chile and interview clergy and alleged victims.

Scicluna’s resulting 2,300-page report prompted Francis to summon Chile’s bishops to Rome for a meeting in mid-May.

Chilean Cardinal Ezzati also said that neither he nor the Chilean Church had deceived the pope, while calling on anyone who had to come forward.

“Those who have committed errors should recognize them, regret and repair them,” he said.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Dave Sherwood