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

The Pope launched a

Pope Francis began purging Chile's Catholic hierarchy on Monday over an avalanche of sex abuse and coverup cases, starting with accepting the resignations of the bishop at the centre of the scandal and two others.

Last month, he joined the rest of Chile's bishops in offering to step down during an extraordinary Vatican summit.

The mass resignation of bishops is nearly unheard of, having last happened two centuries ago.

The scandal is the latest to rock the Roman Catholic Church, and Argentine-born Francis has said it must not happen again on his watch.

The pope accepted Barros' resignation despite previous attempts to defend the bishop.

He also made a decision to host three Chilean sex abuse survivors at his home in the Vatican so he could apologise to them personally and hear their recommendations for change.

Francis also accepted the resignations of Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso and Bishop Cristian Caro of Puerto Montt. Both men are 75, the age when bishops normally retire.

In an unprecedented move, all Chile's 34 bishops offered to resign en masse last month after attending a crisis meeting with the pope over allegations of a cover-up of sexual abuse in the South American nation.

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The Pope's move comes after he received two groups of victims of Fernando Karadima at the Vatican.

During his weeklong trip through Chile and Peru in January, Francis opened with a somber apology for sexual abuse by priests.

In 2015, Francis appointed Barros as bishop of the diocese of Osorno in southern Chile, despite fierce objections from abuse survivors and others who accused Barros of ignoring reports of alleged sexual misconduct by Father Fernando Karadima. 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.

It qualifies the removal of certain prelates from their roles as necessary but "insufficient", calling for "the roots" that allowed for such abuse within an "elitist and authoritarian" Chilean church to be examined.

"Cardinal O'Malley (who delivered the letter) called me after the Pope's visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the Pope - in his hands", Juan Carlos Cruz said.

Victims accused Barros of knowing about what they said was Karadima's abusive behavior but doing nothing to stop it or report it to church authorities.

But days after returning to Rome, a chastened pope, citing new information, sent sexual abuse investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to Chile to speak to victims, witnesses and other church members.

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.

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