Pope Francis has admitted he made “grave errors” in judgment in Chile’s sex abuse scandal and invited the abuse victims he had discredited to Rome to beg their forgiveness.
In an extraordinary letter published on Wednesday, Francis also summoned Chile’s bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the scandal, which has badly tarnished his reputation and that of the Chilean church.
Francis blamed a lack of “true and balanced information” in his mis-steps in judging Bishop Juan Barros, a protege of Chile’s most notorious predator priest.
He strongly defended Barros despite accusations by victims that the Chilean priest witnessed and ignored their abuse.
Francis sent the Vatican’s most respected sex abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to investigate the scandal.
While the pope’s letter does not reveal Mr Scicluna’s conclusions, Francis made clear the bishops needed to “repair the scandal where possible and re-establish justice”.
Francis thanked the 64 people who gave testimony to his envoys about the abuse scandal as well as the media for its “professionalism” in covering the case.
He said he felt “pain and shame” in reading the 2,300-page dossier his envoys prepared after a nearly two-week visit to New York and Chile to take testimony from victims, whom he praised for having had the courage to bare the “wounds of their souls” for the sake of truth.
While church leaders have long criticised the media for exposing paedophiles in their ranks, Francis thanked news organisations for respecting the victims’ confidentiality while “respecting the right of citizens to information”.
In words that laid bare his simmering anger, however, Francis made clear that Chile’s bishops must now work to “re-establish confidence in the church, confidence that was broken by our errors and sins, and heal the wounds that continue to bleed in Chilean society”.