Pope Francis has admitted he made “grave mistakes” in his handling of clergy sexual abuse in Chile, telling the country’s bishops in a letter that he feels “pain and shame.”
In an extraordinary public letter released Wednesday by the Vatican, Francis summoned all of Chile’s bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the scandal.
In the three-page letter in Spanish, the head of the Roman Catholic Church also invited the victims he had once doubted to Rome to seek their forgiveness personally.
Francis blamed a lack of “truthful and balanced information” for his failure in judging the case of Bishop Juan Barros, a protege of Chile’s most notorious predator priest, the Reverend Fernando Karadima. Francis strongly defended the bishop during his January visit to Chile despite accusations by victims that Barros had witnessed and ignored their abuse.
In Chile and during an airborne news conference during his return trip to Rome, Francis accused the victims of “calumny’’ for pressing their case against Barros, demanded they present “proof’’ of their claims and revealed he had twice rejected Barros’ resignation.
“I am convinced he is innocent,’’ the pope insisted.
The change in the pope’s thinking came after a visit to Chile by one of the Vatican’s most experienced sexual abuse investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta.
Francis wrote the letter after receiving Scicluna’s 2,300-page report.
The letter makes no mention of Barros’ future.
In a statement, three victims said they appreciated Francis’ request for forgiveness and were weighing his invitation to meet. They said they would continue fighting for reparation and forgiveness “until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality.’’