Pope Francis has apologised for underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in Chile following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Osorno’s Bishop Juan Barros.
In a letter to the country’s bishops, 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,” the Pope said in the letter, which was released at 3pm Chilean time yesterday, April 11.
Several abuse survivors have alleged that as a young man the future Bishop Barros had witnessed their abuse by his mentor, Fr Fernando Karadima, who the Vatican sentenced in 2011 to a life of prayer and penance after it found him guilty of sexually abusing boys. The once prominent priest was not prosecuted civilly because the Chilean statute of limitations had run out.
Visiting Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for sexual abuses committed by clergy in the South American country, but stood by Dr Barros, saying: “The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is calumny.”
Although the subsequently apologised for his poor choice of words, he held to his claim that the allegations against Dr Barros were calumny. Following a meeting, however, with Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who had in 2015 personally given the Pope a letter from victims of Fr Karadima, the Pope sent Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna to Chile to listen to investigate the case.
Archbishop Scicluna, who spent 10 years as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases, heads a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, tasked with handling appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes.
Dr Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, who took Dr Scicluna’s place when he hospitalised, heard the testimony of 64 people and presented the Pope with a dossier over 2,300 pages long, including statements from witnesses who spoke about alleged abuse at a Marist Brothers’ school.
“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 said, announcing that he was arranging to meet in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings of the investigations.
It is understood that the Pope will meet with survivors of Fr Karadima’s abuse towards the end of this month, and will meet with the Chilean bishops in the third week of May.