Pope Francis admits ‘serious errors’ in handling of Chilean sex abuse cases

In a letter to Chilean bishops, Pope Francis says he hopes to meet with Chilean sex abuse victims. "I apologize to all those who I have offended," he said. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)  In a letter to Chilean bishops, Pope Francis says he hopes to meet with Chilean sex abuse victims. "I apologize to all those who I have offended," he said. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

In what has the appearance of the beginning of an earthquake in the Chilean church, Pope Francis has sent a strong letter to the Chilean bishops in which he speaks of his “pain and shame” on receiving the report on the abuse scandal in Chile from Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. He had sent Archbishop Scicluna to listen to the victims of abuse last February.

In the three-page letter, he admits his own “serious mistakes” in dealing with this scandal and asks for forgiveness and goes on to take two dramatic steps: He summons the entire Chilean hierarchy to meet him in the Vatican and invites the three main accusers of Bishop Barros to meet him there too at a different time.

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The pope admitted that he had badly misjudged the situation, or as he put it: “I fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception of the situation, due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

He said, “From here on, I ask pardon of all those that I have offended, and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings that I will have with representatives of the persons interviewed” by his envoys—Archbishop Scicluna and Father Jordi Bertomeu Farnos.

Pope Francis admitted that he had badly misjudged the situation in Chile, or as he put it: “I fell into serious errors in the evaluation and perception of the situation, due especially to the lack of true and balanced information.”

Pope Francis said that when his envoys gave him their 2,300 page report, they told him that they “were overwhelmed with the sorrow of so many victims of grave abuses of conscience and power and, in particular, of sexual abuse committed by several consecrated persons against minors” who were denied an audience “and robbed of their innocence.” The report was based on their meetings with 64 witnesses, together with “their juridical and pastoral evaluation of the information received” during a inquiry conducted from February 17 to March 1.

Pope Francis said all this “has caused me pain and shame.”

In response he has summoned the entire Chilean hierarchy to the Vatican “to dialogue” with them about “the conclusions” of Archbishop Scicluna’s mission and “to humbly ask” their collaboration and assistance “in discerning what measures need to be taken in the short, medium and long term so as to re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile, with the aim of repairing so far as possible for the scandal, and re-establishing justice.”

The bishops said they will come in the third week of May.

Pope Francis has also invited persons from Chile to come to the Vatican to meet him, including the three main accusers of Bishop Barros, sources in Chile said. The three men, Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton, have accused Bishop Barros of being present when they were abused by Father Fernando Karadima. They accuse the bishop of being part of a coverup for these acts. The men have confirmed that they had received and accepted the pope’s invitation and will come to the Vatican at the end of April.

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.

In the letter, released to the press in Chile and in Rome, the pope warmly thanked the victims and other people for their “honesty, courage and sense of church” in coming forward and baring their souls to Archbishop Scicluna and Father Bertomeu, “who listened from the heart and with humility” to them. He also thanked these envoys for their work and news media that had acted “professionally in dealing with this so delicate case, respecting the right of the citizens to information and the good name of those that testified.”

He called on the Chilean bishops to join him in prayer and told them that his meeting with them “would be an occasion to restore confidence in the church, a confidence broken by our errors and sins, and to heal the wounds that continue to bleed in the actual situation of Chilean society.”

Pope Francis has moved quickly after receiving the report from Archbishop Scicluna, and it is clear from the letter that there is much more to come when he meets the bishops, and also the victims, in the Vatican in coming six or more weeks.

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 Archbishop Scicluna, a trusted investigator, to Chile to listen to people with information about Bishop Barros.

Archbishop Scicluna 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 congregation.

With CNS reporting

Gerard Ahrens
1 week ago

Very humble admissions by the Pope, to be commended. But has Barros been removed?

Julian Irias
1 week ago

We can only go by the report's reference to the impending meeting of the Chilean hierarchy to consult on various measures to be taken.

Julian Irias
1 week ago

Reading the pope's quoted statements makes me think he spoke in some language other than English (Italian? Spanish?). Certainly "repairing...for...the scandal" is not English. Something like "making reparation for" is probably what was meant. Again, "the actual situation" is probably an inaccurate rendering: "attuale" in Italian and "actual" in Spanish would almost certainly mean, in this context, "present" or "current." This is not the first time English versions of papal statements have made me suspect Francis deserves better translators.

sheila gray
1 week ago

This is the biggest news in hundreds of months and years about potentially solving the problem of Catholic Clergy Sex Abuse. Now healing can begin. Now we can figure out together how to help millions of people still living today with the almost impossible-to -mend wounds of ultimate betrayal in childhood and adolescence. Now I have Hope.

Bob Hunt
6 days 18 hours ago

I respectfully disagree. This is, indeed, a massive step forward and represents tremendous progress in the Church handling this horror. Victims of abuse need healing, and the Church is obliged to do whatever is necessary, according to justice, to make that possible. I would say, however, that the biggest news about potentially solving the problem of Catholic clergy sex abuse is the adoption of reforms by the Church, at least in the U. S, that have resulted in the number of credible new cases of abuse decreasing from hundreds every year in the mid-1970s to an average of less than ten every year since the early 1990s. While one case of abuse is one too many, it goes without saying that the best thing that can be done when it comes to the problem of abusing children is to not abuse them in the first place. Broken humanity being what it is, I don't know if we'll ever get to the point where this problem no longer exists at all, but the first priority of everyone ought to be that no child is ever abused. The reforms adopted in the early 1980s have served to protect thousands of children from becoming potential victims by these judas priests, and double victims from any bishop that might still be tempted to cover it up.

Theodore Seeber
1 week ago

This needs to be a lesson to the Church, and from the Church to the whole world: listen to victims of sexual abuse. Institute guilty until proven innocent policies. The memories of abusers cannot be trusted in this type of crime.

Julian Irias
1 week ago

If claims of abuse are heard promptly and with compassion, that will encourage earlier reporting so that everyone's memory will be fresher when cases are investigated. No matter how heinous the claimed offense is, "guilty until proven innocent policies" cannot be justified.

Bob Hunt
6 days 18 hours ago

As one who suffered sexual battery as a young teen (not by a priest) and as one who was falsely accused of hurting a child (not sexually), I cannot agree that "guilty until proven innocent" is justified. How can one prove a negative? How can one prove that one didn't do a crime? If one is guilty until proved innocent beyond any reasonable doubt, than no one will be proved innocent. That is no more than a witch hunt. If that were the standard in my case, I might be in prison right now. The mother simply lied, pointing the finger at me to cover up her own abuse. What horror to know that, if one wanted to cover up their own abuse, or if one wanted to destroy another's reputation, career, or entire life, all that need be done is accuse them of abuse. No! Innocent until proven guilty is the hallmark of any justice system that claims to be a justice system.

Luis Gutierrez
1 week ago

ADMIRABLE! Hope this is a good sign for the Church of the future!

THOMAS Heyman
1 week ago

How refreshing to have a Pope apologize for an error of Judgement in the conduct of his duties. A first in my lifetime. His pontificate is something special. No Prelate appointed by his predecessors has ever apologized for their cover-ups of the pedophilia scandals in their dioceses. Nor did they for their inaction.

Vincent Gaglione
1 week ago

Pope Francis behaves and lives as he teaches. He does not witness a false image to the world. Rather, he witnesses a profoundly human and Christian person who would have us behave and live likewise.

His humility and Christian witness is not so different than what many lower clergy have exhibited in my lifetime. As a Pope, however, he gives us all an example that such Christian witness is for every person and most especially the responsibility of higher clergy.

Pat Berton
1 week ago

There must be some misunderstanding. The Pope is infallible, right?

lawrencemartire1958@gmail.com
1 week ago

You should learn the meanings of the terms you use. "Infallible"<>"perfect." And theologically, the Pope is not infallible. The Church is infallible in certain areas of doctrine. The Pope can pronounce when that is.

lawrencemartire1958@gmail.com
1 week ago

Do you know how long I have been waiting for the Magisterium to use the word "sin" when referring to their own actions? And to ask forgiveness? I am so glad to read these words of Pope Francis. He sounds like a Christian instead of a bureaucrat.

Tim O'Leary
6 days 17 hours ago

Lawrence - to be more exact, here is what Pope Francis personally admitted to: "As for my own responsibility, I acknowledge, and I want you to faithfully convey it that way, that I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially because of the lack of truthful and balanced information. Right now I ask forgiveness from all those I offended and I hope to be able to do so personally, in the coming weeks, in the meetings I will have with representatives of the people who were interviewed." He also said: "Today I want to speak to you not of assurances, but rather of the one thing that the Lord offers us to experience every day: the joy, the peace of forgiveness of our sins and the action of his grace."

I think it is easy to forget that many popes have apologized for the mistakes and sins of the Church and their personal sins (they go to confession weekly), all the way back to St. Peter.

The greatest papal apologizer in history is perhaps St. Pope John Paul II. The NYT had an article where he apologized for the sins of the Church over millennia - 'We cannot not recognize the betrayal of the Gospel committed by some of our brothers, especially in the second millennium." As a Wikipedia post on this says “Pope John Paul II made many apologies. During his long reign as Pope, he apologized to Jews, Galileo, women, people convicted by the Inquisition, Muslims killed by the Crusaders and almost everyone who had allegedly suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church over the years... As Pope, he officially made public apologies for over 100 of these wrongdoings, including the Church’s handling of Galileo, involvement with the African slave trade and colonial injustices, burning of heretics (incl. Jan Hus in 1415), historical denigration of women, silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust, for the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204 and the Catholic sex abuse cases (Nov 2011 - "The Church expresses deep regret and asks forgiveness where her children have been or still are party to these wrongs,").

Pope Benedict XVI said similar things, especially with regard to child sex abuse in Ireland (see his 2010 apology, where he used the words: deeply disturbed, betrayal, sinful and criminal acts, serious sins committed against defenseless children, inadequate response of ecclesiastical authorities, repairing past injustices, misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations, etc.) "Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favor the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."

Pope Francis was particularly and directly involved in this event, and tended to be highly defensive and even arrogant initially, when his decisions were questioned. But, he did the right thing in sending Archbishop Scicluna to investigate, and when he found he had misjudged the people and the situation, he apologized. Like all humans, Pope Francis has his own particular faults (esp. his propensity to use glib insults and dismiss those who disagree with him. He cannot seem to keep those put-downs out of any of his speeches, even in his official documents.) He has faults but is a holy man who loves the Lord, and we are blessed to have him.

Vincent Gaglione
4 days 2 hours ago

Your post is, I presume, very accurate about the apologies proffered by previous Popes. I do remember reading in the secular and Catholic press stories about those apologies. But it recalled to my mind that, not in any parish that I have worshipped, have I ever heard from the pulpit or seen in print in a church bulletin a discussion of those apologies and an explanation of their relevance to modern Catholic life. The disconnect at the parish level can be exceedingly disturbing!

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