Chile’s Catholic hierarchy is set to undergo a purge as Pope Francis takes action after revelations of wide scale sex abuse and subsequent cover-ups.
It began on Monday with Francis accepting the resignation of the bishop at the centre of the scandal, along with two others.
More heads are expected to roll, especially since the scandal has only grown in the weeks since all of Chile's 30-plus active bishops offered to quit over their collective guilt. The bishops say they failed to protect Chile's children from priests who raped, groped and molested them.
A Vatican statement said Francis had accepted the resignations of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt. He has named a temporary leader for each diocese.
Barros (61) has been at the center of Chile's growing scandal ever since Francis appointed him as bishop of Osorno in 2015. He was appointed over the objections of the local faithful, his own sex abuse prevention advisers and some of Chile's other bishops.
They questioned Barros' suitability to lead, especially since he had been a top lieutenant of Chile's most notorious predator priest and had been accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse by that priest.
According to an AP report, Barros denied the charge, but he twice offered to resign in the ensuing years. Last month, he joined the rest of Chile's bishops in offering to step down during an extraordinary Vatican summit.
Chile's church leaders were summoned to Rome after Francis realised he had made "grave errors in judgment" about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during an earlier visit to Chile in January.
In a statement on Monday, Barros asked for forgiveness "for my limitations and what I couldn't handle."
He offered his thanks to the Pope for his concern for the common good and said he prayed "that one day all the truth will shine."
Although it was expected, abuse survivors and Catholics in Osorno praised Barros’ removal. Some believe that more house cleaning is needed to repair the damage brought on by the scandal.
"A new day has begun in Chile's Catholic Church!" tweeted Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor who had denounced Barros for years and pressed the Vatican to take action.
"I'm thrilled for all those who have fought to see this day," he said. "The band of criminal bishops ... begins to disintegrate today."
The other two bishops whose resignations were accepted had submitted them prior to the pope's summit, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 75. But victims had accused both of having botched cases in the past.
Francis realised he had misjudged the Chilean situation after a meeting with Cruz. He read a 2 300-page report that had been compiled by two leading Vatican investigators about the depth of Chile's scandal.
The investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, headed back to Chile on Tuesday to begin what the Vatican has said is a "healing" mission to Osorno.
By accepting Barros' resignation, Francis has essentially given Scicluna and Bertomeu a hand in helping to heal the divisions in a diocese where Barros was never fully accepted as bishop.
But by accepting the resignation from two other bishops, Francis has made it clear that the blame for the scandal does not rest on Borros’ shoulders alone, or on the more than 40 priests and three bishops trained by the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
The Vatican sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of prayer and penance in 2011 for his sex crimes.
He had been a powerful preacher close to Chile's elite.
But the Scicluna-Bertomeu report exposed a far bigger scandal that has implicated several religious orders, including priests and brothers in the Franciscans, the Legion of Christ, the Marist Brothers and the Salesian orders.
More shockingly, it also exposed evidence that the Chilean hierarchy systematically covered up and minimised abuse cases, destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church investigators to discredit abuse accusations and showing "grave negligence" in protecting children from paedophile priests.
Those findings, which were leaked to the media while the Chilean bishops were at the Vatican, have opened a Pandora's Box of new accusations. These accusations have led to Francis becoming the first pope to refer to a "culture of abuse and cover-up" in the Catholic Church.
The biggest new scandal involves revelations of a gay priest sex ring in the Rancagua diocese of the bishop who headed the Chilean church's sex abuse prevention commission.
To date, there are 14 priests in Rancagua who have been suspended. The bishop resigned as head of the commission after admitting he was slow to act on accusations that a minor had been abused.
Juan Carlos Claret, the spokesman for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who fiercely opposed Barros, said Francis's acceptance of the bishop's resignation signalled "the end of the damage" that the Pope himself had inflicted on the diocese by appointing Barros in the first place.
Claret said Barros's exit was the "minimum condition" to begin a dialogue with the Vatican to try to rebuild peace in the diocese. He called for a process to find "truth, justice and reparation" for the damage caused.
"Bishop Barros has ceased being bishop but he hasn't stopped being a brother in the faith, and for this — if he too wants to seek forgiveness — he is called to take part and assume his responsibilities," Claret said.