Vatican removes deputy bishop in Peru after sex abuse allegations

LIMA (Reuters) - The Vatican, under Pope Francis' zero-tolerance policy for pedophile priests, removed an auxiliary bishop from his post in a Peruvian province because of allegations he sexually abused children, a bishop said on Friday.

Mr Luis Bambaren, the former president of Peru's bishops'conference and bishop emeritus of Chimbote, told the local media that Bishop Gabino Miranda was dismissed as auxiliary bishop in the dioceses of Ayacucho, a poor Andean region in southern Peru, after he was accused of having sexual relations with minors.

"It is what the Pope said - zero tolerance," Mr Bambaren said on RPP radio. "Those are very serious crimes, especially when it has to do with a bishop." A Church official confirmed to Reuters that Bishop Miranda, 53, had resigned from Peru's bishops' conference but declined to say why.

The attorney-general's office said on Friday that it was investigating Bishop Miranda and would announce actions soon.

Reuters was not able to reach Bishop Miranda for comment, but conservative Catholic group Opus Dei said that Bishop Miranda has denied the abuse allegations.

"He denies any crime related to minors," Opus Dei in Peru said in a statement on Friday.

The group said that while Bishop Miranda had received "spiritual assistance" from an organization closely linked to Opus Dei - the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross - Bishop Miranda is not a member of Opus Dei.

"Gabino Miranda has never been incardinated in the clergy of Prelature of Opus Dei," the statement said.

Shortly after becoming pope in March, Pope Francis directed the Vatican to act quickly when clergymen are suspected of sexually abusing children, and vowed to punish pedophiles in the Church.

Pope Francis has set a new tone in a Church beset by scandals with his informal style and emphasis on helping the poor instead of criticising homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

In a dramatically blunt interview published on Thursday by an Italian Jesuit journal, Pope Francis said the Church had "locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules" and should not be so prone to condemn.

Local media reported that last week Pope Francis met Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutierrez, considered a key founder of the liberation theology movement popular in the 1970s that urged clergy to take active roles in improving the lot of the poor.