Francis apologizes in letter to Chile's bishops; calls them to Rome for a meeting
Pope Francis sent a letter today to the Chilean bishops after hearing the report of his special envoy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who visited the country to investigate accusations that a bishop covered up sexual abuse. “I apologize to all those I offended,” the pope said, and referred to the sorrow caused him by the report, which he received on March 20 and which was finalized last week.
The letter responds to one of the most polemic cases affecting the Church at this time.
Pope Francis in person, during his recent apostolic trip to that country, publicly exonerated Bishop Barros, who is accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by the priest Fernando Karadima—a gesture by the pope that caused great controversy at the time, and which the pope later stepped back, saying that his word choice hadn’t been the best, though he didn’t withdraw his support from Barros.
“I believe I can say that all the testimonies collected in [the report] speak in stark terms, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives, and I admit that it causes me great sorrow and shame,” the pope said.
“I have fallen into grave errors in assessing and perceiving the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” he admitted in the letter, simultaneously released in Chile and the Vatican. His statement does not mention Bishop Barros specifically or say anything about what the report found in his regard.
The pope will meet over the coming weeks with some of the Chilean victims in Rome; specifically, Juan Carlos Cruz, José Andrés Murillo, and James Hamilton are expected to be present. Also, it has been announced that, during the third week of May, the pope will meet at the Vatican with all the bishops of Chile.
In the same letter, Francis revealed that his special envoys, when speaking of the legal and pastoral assessments of the information they had collected, “acknowledged to me that they felt overwhelmed by the suffering of so many victims of grave abuse of conscience and of power and, in particular, sexual abuse committed by various consecrated men in your country against minors whose reports were denied and whose innocence was stolen.”
“I write to you, gathered for your 115th plenary assembly, to humbly request your collaboration and assistance in the measures which must be adopted in the short-, medium-, and long-term to reestablish ecclesial communion in Chile, with the goal of repairing, as much as possible, the scandal and reestablishing justice.”
To this end, the pope has convoked the Chilean bishops to Rome, to “dialogue about the conclusions of the aforementioned visit and my conclusions,” he said.
In his letter, the Pope also thanked the media and other organizations for their professionalism in dealing with this case. “I want to thank the various organizations and media outlets for their professionalism in dealing with this highly delicate case, respecting the rights of citizens to information, as well as the good reputation of the declarants,” he wrote.
Archbishop Scicluna and Msgr. Bertomeu heard 64 testimonies. More than 2,300 pages make up their report given to the pope on March 20, and completed last week.