VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis began purging Chile’s Catholic hierarchy Monday over an avalanche of sex abuse and cover-up cases, starting with accepting the resignations of the bishop at the center of the scandal and two others.

More heads were expected to roll, given that the scandal has only grown in the weeks since all of Chile’s 30-plus active bishops offered to quit over their collective guilt in failing 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 named a temporary leader for each diocese.

Barros, 61, has been at the center of Chile’s growing scandal ever since Francis appointed him bishop of Osorno in 2015 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, given 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.

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. Francis had summoned Chile’s church leaders to Rome after realizing he had made “grave errors in judgment” about Barros, whom he had defended strongly during a visit to Chile in January.

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