Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of two more bishops in Chile. The Vatican announced that Bishops Pellegrin Barrera and Contreras Molina are relinquishing their posts as diocesan leaders of Chillan and San Felipe, respectively.
Two so-called apostolic administrators take over until new regular bishops are appointed. This leaves eight of Chile's 27 dioceses under interim administration. The country's Catholic Church was rocked by an abuse scandal this spring. As usual, the Vatican did not give reasons for the resignations.
Prosecutor's investigation into sexual assaults
Pellegrin had been bishop of the central Chilean diocese of Chillan since 2006. In 2011, media reported on prosecutorial investigation against him based on allegations of sexual abuse of underage students. From 2007 to 2010, Pellegrin headed the Education Commission of the Chilean Bishops' Conference. In 2007 he was elected president of the International Catholic Educational Organization OIEC.
Bishop Contreras is under investigation by prosecutors for alleged sexual assault of an adult male, according to Chilean media. Contreras denied wrongdoing, according to media reports. He had presided over the San Felipe diocese since 2002.
Religious and priests from the neocatechumenate step in
As interim leader in Chillan, the pope appointed religious Sergio Hernan Perez de Arce Arriagada (55), a member of the Congregation of the Arnstein Fathers and leader of the Chilean province of his order from 2005 to 2011. As president of the Chilean religious conference, he was active in abuse prevention from 2011 to 2014, according to church sources; in 2018 he became abuse commissioner of the Arnstein Fathers in Chile.
The apostolic administrator in San Felipe is Jaime Ortiz de Lazcano Piquer (48). A native of Spain, he is a priest of the diocese of Rome and belongs to the community of the neocatechumenate. According to the Chilean Bishops' Conference, he has been working in the capital Santiago for 16 years. Since 2008, he has held senior positions in the country's ecclesiastical justice system.
Chilean archbishop apparently at crisis meeting with pope
In addition, the Vatican reported Friday that Chilean Archbishop Fernando Chomali has been received by Pope Francis. The 61-year-old bishop, head of the Archdiocese of Concepcion since 2011, is under discussion as a possible successor to Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati at the helm of the capital's Archdiocese of Santiago, according to Chilean media. Ezzati, 76, is under prere in connection with Catholic Church abuse scandal.
According to Chilean media reports, Chomali reacted evasively to questions about a possible replacement for Ezzati. He had "other ies to discuss" with the pope, he had said Wednesday before the meeting, according to the online newspaper "El Dinamo". The appointment in Rome had been planned for three months. Personnel decisions are up to the pope, Chomali said. At the same time, he hinted that the meeting would be about the abuse scandal.
As Chilean broadcaster Bio Bio reported Thursday, citing the prosecutor's office, Chilean justice is currently investigating 7 bishops, 96 priests, 4 deacons, 30 religious, 10 lay people and 20 people for abuse or cover-up allegations without further details. At ie are 119 alleged cases of abuse since 1960; affected by the events are 178 people as victims, according to the station.