Vatican City (AFP) – Pope Francis admitted Wednesday he had made “grave mistakes” in his handling of a sexual abuse scandal in Chile.
In a letter to 32 Chilean bishops, released by the Vatican, Francis said that he intended to summon them to Rome to discuss an investigation into the abuse carried out by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
The probe involves an alleged cover-up by Bishop Juan Barros of abuse by paedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.
Francis made no specific mention of Barros in his letter, but he expressed his “shame” and “pain” for the suffering of the victims and pledged to meet them.
“I have made grave mistakes in the assessment and my perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis wrote.
The 2,300-page report sent to the pope includes testimony gathered from 64 people in New York and Santiago.
The pope has asked for the bishops summoned to Rome to discuss the findings and for their “collaboration and assistance” in finding measures that can “repair the scandal as much as possible and restore justice”.
“The present difficulties are also an opportunity to restore confidence in the Church, a confidence broken by our mistakes and sins,” Francis wrote.
– Convinced of Barros’ innocence –
During a trip to Chile in January, the pontiff had strongly defended Barros, who was appointed Bishop of Osorno in Chile, despite being accused of concealing and even witnessing abuse carried out by Karadima.
The presence of Barros at public masses celebrated by the Pope in three different Chilean cities caused a public outcry during Francis’ visit at the start of the year.
Karadima was convicted by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing teenage boys and sentenced to a life of penitence.
At the time, Francis said that he was convinced of Barros’ innocence and demanded “proof” of abuse before he would speak out against him.
“There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?” Francis said.
However, he later apologised to the victims and dispatched Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a renowned Vatican investigator, to Chile to collect evidence. Scicluna returned at the end of February.
Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, was until 2012 a prosecutor in the Vatican Court to investigate cases of paedophilia among priests, making a name for himself with his determination.
He allowed the opening of an investigation into Father Marcial Maciel, Mexican founder of the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the perpetrator of numerous cases of paedophilia.