Pope apologizes for 'serious mistakes' in judging Chilean abuse cases

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

— In a letter to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis apologized for
underestimating the seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis in the country
following a recent investigation into allegations concerning Bishop Juan Barros
of Osorno.

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 by
the Vatican April 11. Several survivors apparently have been invited to the
Vatican to meet the pope.

Abuse victims alleged
that Bishop Barros — then a priest — had witnessed their abuse by his mentor,
Father Fernando Karadima. In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of
prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing
boys. Father Karadima denied the charges; he was not prosecuted civilly because
the statute of limitations had run out.

Protesters and
victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Father Karadima and was physically
present while some of the abuse was going on.

During his visit to
Chile in January, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for the sexual abuses
committed by some priests in Chile.

“I feel bound
to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by
some of the ministers of the church,” he said.

However, speaking to
reporters, he pledged his support for Bishop Barros and said: “The day
they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one piece
of evidence against him. It is calumny.”

He later apologized
to the victims and admitted that his choice of words wounded many.

A short time later,
the Vatican announced Pope Francis was sending a trusted investigator to Chile
to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles
Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of
abuse or other serious crimes. The archbishop also had 10 years of experience
as the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of clerical sex abuse cases at the doctrinal

Pope Francis said
Archbishop Scicluna and his aide, Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos, heard the
testimony of 64 people and presented him with more than 2,300 pages of
documentation. Not all of the witnesses spoke about Father Karadima and Bishop
Barros; several of them gave testimony about abuse alleged to have occurred at
a Marist Brothers’ school.

After a
“careful reading” of the testimonies, the pope said, “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 he was
convening a meeting in Rome with the 34 Chilean bishops to discuss the findings
of the investigations and his own conclusions “without prejudices nor
preconceived ideas, with the single objective of making the truth shine in our

Pope Francis said he
wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to
“re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to repair the scandal
as much as possible and re-establish justice.”

Archbishop Scicluna
and Father Bertomeu, the pope said, had been overwhelmed by the “maturity,
respect and kindness” of the victims who testified.

“As pastors,”
the pope told the bishops, “we must express the same feeling and cordial
gratitude to those who, with honesty (and) courage” requested to meet with
the envoys and “showed them the wounds of their soul.”

Following the
release of Pope Francis’ letter, Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of
the bishops’ conference and head of the military ordinariate, said the bishops
of Chile would travel to the Vatican in the third week of May.

The bishops, he
said, shared in the pope’s pain.

“We have not
done enough,” he said in a statement. “Our commitment is that this
does not happen again.”

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Follow Arocho on
Twitter: @arochoju.

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