By Christopher Wells
In a remarkable letter addressed to the Bishops of Chile, Pope Francis admits to making “serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation” of clerical sexual abuse.
The Holy Father says he was moved to write the letter after he carefully read the report delivered to him by two special envoys sent to Chile for the express purpose of listening to the stories of victims. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Fr Jordi Bertomeu Farnós were dispatched to receive testimony from alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse after the Pope was publicly criticized for his handling of the case of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused of covering up, and even participating in, the abuse of men and boys by another priest.
Sorrow and shame
In his letter, Pope Francis affirms that “the collected testimonies speak in a stark way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives, and I confess to you that that causes me sorrow and shame,” he writes.
The Pope also acknowledges his own responsibility, saying “I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to the lack of truthful and balanced information.” He requests forgiveness “from all those I have offended,” and says he will be meeting with representatives of the people interviewed, in order to apologize personally.
Bishops called to Rome
In view of the ongoing grave situation, Pope Francis “humbly” requests the “collaboration and assistance” of the Bishops “in the discernment of the short, medium, and long-term measures to be adopted in order to re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile, with the goal of repairing the scandal as much as possible, and re-establishing justice.”
To that end, the Pope says he intends to call all the Bishops of Chile to Rome for discussions, leaving the timing of the visit to the Bishops’ Conference.
Throughout his letter, Pope Francis emphasizes the need for prayer. And, he says, he wants to share with the Bishops “the conviction that the present difficulties are also an occasion to re-establish trust in the Church, a trust broken by our errors and sins; and to heal wounds that do not cease to bleed in the whole of Chilean society.”