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.
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