VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of two more bishops in Chile, taking the total to seven as fallout mounts from widespread sex abuse scandals in the country.
The Vatican announced on 21 September the resignations of 60-year-old Bishop Carlos Pellegrin Barrera of San Bartolome de Chillan and 71-year-old Bishop Cristian Contreras Molina of San Felipe. The normal retirement age for a bishop is 75.
Mons. Pellegrin Barrera, 60, former rector of the College of the Divine Word, was probed in 2011 after an anonymous email believed to have been sent by a former student accused him of sex abuse. The email described alcohol-fuelled sex parties with students “no older than 17”.
It further spoke of two students who committed suicide after possible abuse. The email also described improper conduct of at least another three priests with students and workers.
As for Msgr Contreras Molina, the other bishop removed Friday, he is one of seven bishops who appear in the last census of the national prosecutor for criminal action linked to suspected sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
According to a communiqué from the Press Office of the Holy See, Pellegrin and Contreras were replaced by the apostolic administrators of the vacant venues, Sergio Hernan Perez de Arce and Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano, in the dioceses of San Bertolome de Chillan and San Felipe, respectively. It did not cite any reasons.
Including Pellegrin and Contreras, seven Chilean prelates have been dismissed by Pope Francis since May 17, when all 34 Chilean bishops, 31 in active service and three emeritus, resigned en masse after a three day meeting with the Holy Father, who summoned them to Rome to analyze what happened.
The collective resignations were aimed at freeing Pope Francis’s hands to take the actions that he considered pertinent, as he did on June 11, when he dismissed Juan Barros, Cristian Caro and Gonzalo Duarte, and 20 days later, with the dismissals of Horacio del Carmen Valenzuela and Alejandro Goic.
The Chillan diocese was one of four raided by Chilean authorities last week in investigations of clergy’s sexual abuse of minors and hierarchy’s alleged cover-ups.
Earlier this week, Pope Francis ordered Reverend Cristian Precht Bañados, 77, to be removed from the priesthood over allegations he sexually abused minors in Chile.
He had already been suspended from priestly duties in 2012 for five years following an investigation into similar allegations.