The Pope launched a "cleansing" of the bishops in Chile

New claims await pope's sex abuse investigators in Chile

Pope accepts resignation of three bishops over Chile sexual abuse scandal

Victims of a sexual abuse scandal by clerics in Chile's Roman Catholic Church applauded Pope Francis' decision Monday to accept the resignations of three bishops - including a prelate at the epicenter of cascading allegations of sexual abuse, cover-ups and impunity.

Besides Barros, the pope also agreed to the departures of Cristián Caro Cordero, bishop of Puerto Montt, and Gonzalo Duarte García de Cortázar, bishop of Valparaiso.

One of the most recent accusers to step forward, Helmut Kramer, a 48-year-old engineer from Santiago, told Reuters on Monday that at the age of 13 he was forced to strip and was fondled by Father Leonel Ibacache, a Jesuit, in meetings held under the pretext of preparing him for baptism and enrollment in the Jesuit school in the northern city of Antofagasta in 1983.

Pope Francis himself has become mired in the scandal both for having appointed Barros bishop of Osorno in 2015 despite objections from several quarters and then defending him during a trip to Chile in January.

Karadima's victims have long accused Barros of knowing about the abuse but saying and doing nothing about it.

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.

"We are seeking to provide concrete technical and legal that [the Church] can give a proper response to each case of sexual abuse", Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said at a news conference in Santiago.

The announcement came in a June 11 communique from the Vatican, along with the resignation of two other Chilean bishops.

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In a statement Monday, Barros asked forgiveness "for my limitations and what I couldn't handle".

"I'm thrilled for all those who have fought to see this day", he said.

Jaime Coiro, general secretary of the Chilean Catholic Church, noted that the pope has said the case will require short-, medium- and long-term measures, which could include accepting the resignations of more bishops.

"This is huge not only for the Chilean church but for the entire world", Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean abuse survivor who helped lead a campaign pressuring the Vatican to take action, said in a phone interview, echoing public comments from other victims and church-reform advocates. "The band of delinquent bishops ... begins to disintegrate today".

Scicluna is due to return to Chile this week to gather more information.

In an unprecedented move, all of Chile's 34 bishops offered to resign en masse last month after attending a meeting with the pope over allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse. Jordi Bertomeu of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in February, resulting in a 2,300 page report on the scandal. 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.

Cruz, whom the pope hosted at his Vatican residence and met individually along with two other victims, said the pontiff was "contrite" and said he had been "part of the problem".

AP writer Eva Vergara contributed from Santiago, Chile.

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