Pope Francis says he has made “grave mistakes” in handling a sexual abuse scandal in Chile, expressing his wish to invite the abuse victims he had discredited to Rome to beg their forgiveness.
In a visit to Chile in January, the Pope had defended a Chilean bishop named Juan Barros, who stands accused of having protected his former mentor, Reverend Fernando Karadima, a convicted pedophile.
The Vatican in 2011 found Karadima guilty of abusing teenage boys over many years.
“I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, due in particular to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Pope Francis said in an extraordinary letter to Chilean bishops on Wednesday.
“I apologize to all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings I will have (with victims),” he added.
The pontiff also summoned the 32 bishops in Chile to meet at the Vatican in May and discuss the findings of the probe by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, calling for their “collaboration and assistance” in finding measures that can “repair the scandal as much as possible and restore justice.”
In Chile and on his way back to Rome, the top Vatican authority had accused the sex abuse victims of “slander” for pressing their case against Bishop Barros and demanded “proof” of their claims.
“There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?” Pope Francis said at the time when asked by reporters about Barros.
After his remarks caused an outcry, Francis apologized to the victims and sent Scicluna, the Vatican’s most experienced sex abuse investigator, to Chile to collect evidence.
In his Wednesday letter, the Pope said he felt “pain and shame” in reading the 2,300-page dossier that his envoy had prepared and thanked the 64 people who had testified and showed courage to bare the “wounds of their souls” for the sake of truth.
The Pope’s trip to Chile on January 16 was marred by the sex scandal, which first emerged in 2010, and also deep-rooted anger among the Chileans for Francis’ appointment of pontiffs that had been connected to the scandal.
At least nine churches were set ablaze or firebombed before the Pope’s visit.
The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by numerous scandals in the past few years, involving allegations of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests to protect pedophiles and the reputation of the Church.
Pope Francis, who was appointed in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul the Vatican, had warned that there will be “no privileges” for bishops when it comes to child sex offenses. The pontiff also promised more action in response to accusations of cover-up and excessive leniency by the Vatican.