VATICAN CITY?Pope Benedict XVI, by accepting the resignations of bishops implicated in child sex abuse cases, is showing he wants to make a "clean sweep" as the Roman Catholic Church tries to recover from months of scandal, Vatican experts say.
On Friday, the pope allowed the bishop of Bruges, in Belgium, to take early retirement.
Roger Vangheluwe, 73, admitted to sexually abusing a minor several years ago, becoming the first bishop directly implicated as a predator cleric since a wave of scandals involving priests began sweeping Europe and the Americas in November.
The day before, the pope accepted the resignation of Irish Bishop James Moriarty, also 73, named in a damning report that found Catholic authorities in the Dublin archdiocese concealed abuse of children by priests for decades.
Moriarty was the fourth bishop to be allowed to resign over the scandals in Ireland.
Such resignations before the normal retirement age of 75 are allowed by canon law in case of incapacitating illness or other unspecified "serious reasons".
Though the wording is vague, they are disciplinary measures that show "Benedict XVI's absolute wish to carry out a 'clean sweep'", said Vatican expert Marco Politi of the left-wing newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, describing the drive as "an essential moral and spiritual battle".
"The pope is starting to put the house in order," said another Vatican watcher, Bruno Bartoloni. "He is showing the faithful that he is working on the matter, and that he is tougher than people expected him to be."
The head of the Belgian Catholic Church, in comments relayed by the Vatican press office, noted that the pope had "immediately accepted" Vangheluwe's resignation.
"In this way the Church is underscoring that in these affairs there is no beating around the bush," said Andre-Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels.
Another high-profile resignation this week was that of one of Germany's most divisive bishops, Walter Mixa of Augsburg, who has admitted to hitting children.
The head of the German Church had asked Mixa to "take a break" -- an unprecedented move, according to German media.
Many observers in the Italian press said they believed the move had been coordinated with the Vatican.
Mixa, who is also bishop of the German military, said in a letter to the German-born Benedict sent Wednesday: "I am and have been fully aware of my own weaknesses. I ask forgiveness from everyone I may have acted wrongly towards and from everyone to whom I may have caused harm."
He is also known for incendiary comments on political matters that sparked outrage in the Jewish community and beyond.
Observers say the resignations may be the start of clear translations of the resolve that Benedict showed during trips to the United States and Australia in 2008 -- when he met with abuse victims and apologized for the scourge.
The pope re-affirmed his strong stance against pedophilia in a letter to Irish Catholics following the scandals there.
On a trip to Malta last weekend, the pope met again with sex abuse victims who said he wept as he consoled them and prayed with them.
The Vatican said he told them: "The Church is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future."
A victims' group in the United States rejected the remarks, saying: "When the pope promises 'action,' what he means are 'policy tweaks'."
In many countries, criminal priests often escape prosecution because victims often do not come forward until decades after the abuse, when the statute of limitations has expired.
The Church's own canon law also has a statute of limitations, set at 10 years after the victim turns 18, but experts believe the limit may soon be scrapped.