Pope Francis has apologized for “grave errors” in the handling of sexual abuse cases in Chile, where he had adamantly defended a bishop accused of covering up abuse by the country’s most notorious pedophile priest.
In an extraordinary letter to the bishops of Chile, published on Wednesday, a remorseful pope then invited representatives of the abuse victims to Rome so that he could personally apologize. Francis has endured intense criticism over accusations that he had a blind spot on the issue of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
A spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference said that some of the victims would go in the coming weeks, and that the pope would individually ask for their forgiveness. Francis in the letter also summoned the country’s 32 bishops to meet at the Vatican in May — an exceptionally large gathering of bishops — to discuss clerical sex abuse.
In the pope’s letter, which he signed on Sunday, he said that a delegation led by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, a Maltese prelate who has been called the Vatican’s Eliot Ness in fighting clerical sex abuse, had taken the testimony of 64 people in Santiago and New York and produced more than 2,300 pages. The result, Francis wrote, was his being “moved to write this letter.”
“As far as my role, I acknowledge, and ask you to convey faithfully, that I have made grave errors in assessment and perception of the situation, especially as a result of lack of information that was truthful and balanced,” wrote Francis, 81. “From this time I ask forgiveness to all those that I offended and I hope to do so personally, in the following weeks, in meetings that I will hold with representatives of the people who were interviewed.”
In a visit to Chile and Peru in January, the pope made a spirited defense of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid that seemed to disregard the testimony of abuse survivors, who had long claimed the prelate had witnessed and covered up abuse by his mentor, the charismatic priest the Rev. Fernando Karadima. The pope said he had seen no “proof” of a cover-up.
Then, in an attempted apology on the flight back to Rome, Francis made a strange distinction between proof and evidence, and reiterated accusations of “calumny” against the bishop’s accusers. He revealed that he had twice rejected the resignation in recent years of Bishop Barros, whom he appointed to the small diocese of Osorno in 2015.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Jason Horowitz