Pope Francis admits 'grave mistakes' in handling of Chile sex abuse scandal

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Pope Francis expressed “shame” over his handling of a sexual abuse crisis in Chile and asked for forgiveness from victims he’d previously dismissed, according to a letter released by the Vatican on Wednesday.

The move was an attempt for Francis to quell outcry over his defense of Chilean Bishop Juan Barros who is accused of witnessing and covering up sexual abuse by a pedophile priest.

Read more: Vatican revives sexual abuse panel

What did Francis say in the letter?

  • “I have fallen in grave errors of judgment and perception of the situation, especially due to the lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis wrote.
  • Francis summoned 32 Chilean bishops for a meeting in Rome to discuss the results of an investigation into the sex abuse scandal.
  • “From now on I ask forgiveness of all those I offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks,” he wrote, inviting victims to come to Rome to meet with him.
  • He did not specifically mention Barros in the letter, but said that much needs to be done to reform the Roman Catholic Church in Chile and restore confidence.

Read more: Pope knew about sex abuse cover-up, says Chilean victim

How did Chileans respond? Parishioners and priests in the southern Chilean city of Osorno, where Barros was appointed as a bishop, said in a statement that they accepted Francis’ plea for forgiveness. However, they said Barros needed to resign in order to regain trust with the church.

Read more: Pedophile priest convicted by German court of 108 cases of child abuse

Chile’s church abuse scandal: Bishop Barros is accused of covering up and even witnessing abuse carried out by priest Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 1990s. Karadima was convicted by the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer. Civil charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Pope in hot water: Francissparked public outcry when he strongly defended Barros during a trip to Chile in January. He demanded “proof” of claims from victims and asserted the bishop was innocent. He later apologized and dispatched a renowned Vatican investigator to Chile to collect evidence.

Emergency meeting with bishops: Such emergency meetings with bishops at the Vatican are rare. American bishops were summoned in 2002 after the sex abuse scandal erupted in the US. Irish bishops were also rebuked in a meeting in 2013 for their mishandling of abuse cases.

Rome summit: The Chilean bishops are due to meet with Francis in May to discuss a 2,300-page report on the scandal that included testimony from 64 people.

rs/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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