Earlier this year, Chile's bishops submitted offers to resign en masse to Francis, in response to his belated crackdown on pedophile priests, other sex abuse by clergy there and Chilean church hierarchy's cover-ups of the wrongdoing.
Friday's announcement raised to seven the number of bishops so far whose resignations Francis has accepted in recent months. To guide the dioceses for now that Pellegrin Barrera and Contreras Molina had been leading, Francis appointed apostolic administrators.
The Chillan diocese was one of four raided by Chilean authorities last week in investigations of clergy's sexual abuse of minors and the hierarchy's alleged cover-ups. Rank-and-file faithful in Chile have been pressing for the removal from the bishop's post of Pellegrin Barrera, 60, who prosecutors recently have said is under investigation for alleged sexual abuse.
In one of his private audiences Friday, Francis met at the Vatican with the archbishop of Concepcion, another of the recently raided dioceses. The pontiff has acknowledged that he had underestimated the pervasiveness of pedophile priests and other church abuse in Chile.
BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based organization that keeps track of allegations and investigations of clerical sex abuse investigations and cover-ups worldwide, says that in 2014, Chilean church leaders announced that the Vatican was investigating Contreras Molina for alleged sexual abuse. It said the prelate denied the allegations, and later that year, the Vatican declared him innocent, according to the diocese, and civil prosecutor threw out the case for lack of evidence.
At 71, the San Felipe bishop is younger than the age, 75, at which all bishops must offer their resignation to the pope, who can accept or ask the churchmen to stay on a few more years. Francis has blasted Chile's bishops for destroying evidence of sex crimes, pressuring church lawyers to minimize accusations and neglecting to protect children from pedophile priests.