By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis accepted the resignation of a bishop in Los Angeles accused of sexually abusing a minor, the Vatican said on Wednesday, in the latest case of clergy misconduct to shake the U.S. Catholic Church.
A brief Vatican statement said Alexander Salazar, 69, an assistant bishop in Los Angeles, was stepping down. It also distributed a letter on the Salazar case written by the current Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez.
The U.S. Catholic Church is still reeling from a U.S. grand jury report that found that 301 priests in the state of Pennsylvania had sexually abused minors over a 70-year period.
There will be a major meeting at the Vatican in February on the global sex abuse crisis.
Gomez’s letter to the faithful said that in 2005, a year after Salazar became bishop, the archdiocese had become aware of an accusation that Salazar had engaged in “misconduct with a minor” when he was a priest in a parish in the 1990s.
Police investigated but the Los Angeles district attorney did not prosecute, Gomez’s letter said, adding that Salazar, a native of Costa Rica, “has consistently denied any wrongdoing”.
The archdiocese’s independent Clergy Misconduct Review Board found the allegation “credible” and informed the Vatican.
The archbishop’s letter did not explain why the process between the initial accusation and Wednesday’s resignation took 13 years.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Salazar’s name resurfaced after Gomez became archbishop in 2011, and ordered a review of past allegations of abuse.
The archdiocese’s statement disclosed that Gomez’s predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, sent the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which investigates abuse cases.
The CDF “permitted Bishop Salazar to remain in ministry subject to certain precautionary conditions, which he has respected”. The statement did not elaborate on what the conditions were or why he was allowed to return to ministry.
Benedict XVI was pope between 2005 and his resignation in 2013.
Pope Francis has summoned the heads of some 110 national Catholic bishops’ conferences and dozens of experts and leaders of religious orders to the Vatican on Feb. 21-24 for an extraordinary gathering dedicated to the sexual abuse crisis.
Victims of clergy sexual abuse are hoping that the meeting will finally come up with a clear policy to make bishops themselves accountable for the mishandling of abuse cases.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich)