Pope Francis has apologized for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in Chile, acknowledging that he has made “serious mistakes” in handling the issue.
In a letter to the bishops of Chile, the pope said he made “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information.”
“I ask forgiveness of all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks,” Francis said in the letter that was released by the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the Vatican to meet the pope.
The pope’s letter follows Vatican investigator Archbishop Charles Scicluna who was in Chile to investigate Bishop Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid of Osorno, accused of having put the brakes on an investigation of his spiritual father, Fernando Karadima, a charismatic Santiago priest, who inspired numerous vocations including several bishops.
Many have accused Bishop Barros of having witnessed abuse when he was young and failed to report Karadima.
Karadima, who has been exposed as a sexual predator and was laicized in 2010 when 80, was ordered by the Vatican to “retire to a life of prayer and penitence.” He was not prosecuted civilly because the statute of limitations had been exceeded.
Earlier, despite claims against Bishop Barros, Pope Francis named him to head the Diocese of Osorno in 2015, saying he was “personally convinced” of the bishop’s innocence after the case was investigated twice with no evidence emerging at the time.
Questioned by journalists during his January trip to Chile, Pope Francis said in an angry tone: “The day they bring me proof against the bishop, then I will speak. There is not a single proof against him. This is calumny! Is that clear?”
However, during the in-flight press conference on Jan. 21-22 while returning from South America to Rome, the pope apologized to the victims for saying they offered no “proof” when he should have said “evidence.” But he still maintained they had slandered Bishop Barros.
Then soon after his visit, Pope Francis, in a stunning about-face, decided to send to Chile Archbishop Scicluna — the Catholic Church’s top expert on investigating sex abuse — to review “recently received information concerning the case” of Bishop Barros.
Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented the pope with more than 2,300 pages of documentation.
Not all of the witnesses spoke about Karadima and Bishop Barros. Several of them testified about abuse alleged to have occurred at a Marist Brothers’ school, according to Catholic News Service.
After a “careful reading” of the testimonies, the pope said, “I believe I can affirm that all the testimonies collected speak in a brutal way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives and, I confess, it has caused me pain and shame.”
The pope has asked the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations and his own conclusions “without prejudices nor preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our lives.”
Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to “re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice.”
Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the “maturity, respect and kindness” of the victims who testified.
“As pastors,” the pope told the bishops, “we must express the same feeling and cordial gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage” requested to meet with the envoys and “showed them the wounds of their soul.”
Following the release of Pope Francis’ letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the bishops’ conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.
The bishops, he said, shared in the pope’s pain. “We have not done enough,” he said in a statement. “Our commitment is that this does not happen again.”
The Chilean bishops are meeting this week for a plenary assembly.
This article first appeared in La Croix International on 12 April 2018