Pope Francis, right, walks with Chile's Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati to a session of the synod, a two-week meeting of cardinals and bishops from around the world, at the Vatican, on Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope admits 'grave errors' in Chile abuse case

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis admitted Wednesday he made "grave errors" in judgment in Chile's sex abuse scandal and invited the victims he had discredited to Rome to beg their forgiveness.

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In an extraordinary public letter, Francis also summoned all of Chile's bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting in the coming weeks to discuss repairing the damage from the scandal, which has badly tarnished his reputation and that of the Chilean church.

The Vatican orders up such emergency visits only on rare occasions, such as when American bishops were summoned in 2002 after the clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in the U.S. and in 2010 when Irish bishops received a comprehensive Vatican dressing down for their botched handling of abuse cases.

Francis blamed a lack of "truthful and balanced information" for his missteps in judging the case of Bishop Juan Barros, a protege of Chile's most notorious predator priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Francis strongly defended the bishop during his January visit to Chile despite accusations by victims that Barros had witnessed and ignored their abuse.

In Chile and during an airborne press conference returning to Rome, Francis accused the victims of "calumny" for pressing their case against Barros, demanded they present "proof" of their claims and revealed he had twice rejected Barros' resignation.

"I am convinced he is innocent," the pope insisted.

After causing an outcry, Francis sent the Vatican's most respected sex abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to look into the scandal.

While his letter didn't reveal his ultimate conclusions about Barros, Francis made clear that he and the bishops have a lot of work to do to turn the Chilean church around.

In words that laid bare his simmering anger, Francis said they must "re-establish confidence in the church, confidence that was broken by our errors and sins, and heal the wounds that continue to bleed in Chilean society."

But the Chilean bishops insisted they had been truthful to Francis about the need to get rid of Barros — they had proposed he resign and take a year sabbatical — and victims' advocates said Francis had only himself to blame, since the accusations against Barros were well known and well-founded.

Anne Barrett Doyle, of BishopAccountability.org, an online abuse resource, noted an Associated Press report that Francis received a personal letter about Barros' misdeeds from a victim in 2015, but seemingly chose to ignore it.

"If Francis was misinformed or inadequately informed, it was because he chose to be so," she said.

Karadima was a charismatic preacher who was removed from ministry by the Vatican for sexually abusing minors and sentenced in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer. Karadima had long been a darling of the Chilean hierarchy, and his victims have accused church leaders of covering up his crimes to protect the church's reputation.

Scicluna and his colleague, the Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, spent nearly two weeks in Chile and New York earlier this year interviewing Karadima's victims, who for years have denounced Barros' silence and were stunned by Francis' strong defense of him.

In his letter, Francis thanked the 64 people who testified and had the courage to bare the "wounds of their souls" for the sake of truth. After reading the 2,300-page dossier his envoys prepared, Francis affirmed the victims "spoke in a stark way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives."

"I confess this caused me pain and shame," he wrote.

"For my part, I recognize - and so I want it to be faithfully transmitted - that I have fallen in grave errors of judgment and perception of the situation, especially due to the lack of truthful and balanced information," Francis wrote. "From now on I ask forgiveness of all those I offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks."

In a statement, Barros' three main accusers said they appreciated Francis request for forgiveness and were weighing his invitation to meet. They said they would continue fighting for reparation and forgiveness "until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality."

Many of Chile's bishops, and members of Francis' own sex abuse advisory board, had questioned Barros' suitability to lead a diocese given claims by Karadima's victims that Barros stood by and did nothing while Karadima groped them.

Francis overrode their concerns and appointed Barros bishop of the southern Chilean diocese of Osorno in 2015, saying the church had investigated the claims against him and found them to be baseless.

Osorno's lay Catholics and many Osorno priests rejected him, and they greeted Francis' letter Wednesday with graciousness, accepting his request for forgiveness but renewing their demand for Barros' removal.

The head of the Chilean bishops' conference, Monsignor Santiago Silva, insisted the Chilean church had provided only truthful information to Francis about Barros. But, he added, "obviously we didn't do everything we should have done."

Other clerics more favorable to Barros had Francis' ear: the Vatican ambassador, who has long been hostile to Barros' accusers; the retired archbishop of Santiago, who has accused Cruz of being a liar and "serpent"; and an old Spanish Jesuit friend who evaluated Barros years ago.


Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield reported this story at the Vatican and AP writer Eva Vergara reported from Punta de Tralca, Chile.


  1. Yeah, apologizing to the victims will make everything all right.

    At least he admitted “grave errors”. That’s fairly remarkable for a religious institution, especially the RCC.

    All these abuse cases–stretching back decades–contain a multitude of lies. Specifically, it’s extremely unlikely that the colleagues of the abusing priests were not aware of what was going in.

  2. If I recall past situations where he has held such audiences, he not only touches and speaks to each soul individually, but he also prostrates himself on the floor before them begging their forgiveness. That is no small act of contrition.

  3. Oh, yeah, I’m sure all their psychological problems vanish when he does that.

    From what I’ve read and heard, sexual abuse by clergy has terrible, long-lasting effects on the victims.

  4. This mess will linger on for decades. I’m sure if there were a god, she could smell the decay and stink coming from the Vatican.

    “…sentenced in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer. ”

    Tough penalties, huh? Put them in prison where they belong and see what it is like to be abused.

  5. Thank goodness Archbishop Scicluna was sent as he has the experience and the fortitude to get to the bottom of this regardless. Maybe this is another wake up call to the pope to never assume the word of the clergy over those who are saying they have been abused. This had been going on for far too long, and a debt of gratitude goes out to the faithful in Chile and the victims for not backing down. Now the RCC can look to Eastern Europe and Africa for the next wave of abuses and they better listen and act regardless.

  6. Yes, and at the time we all thought we were turning the corner on the behaviors of the RCC. His remarks while he was in Chile to victim/survivors have made him look like a hypocrite. So frankly, we have made no headway and victims/survivors still face an uphill battle.

  7. ” grave errors”
    What a joke !
    Compared to the human blood shed by the RCC over the millennia – this is a joke !
    It’s called CYA – hoping to prevent the proliferation of the ” nones ” who pose the greatest threat to the RCC.
    The greatest ” grave error ” was when Constitine institutionalized a phony non-existent prophet, who was the son of a phony non existent god.

  8. If Francis were serious, he would put Father Tom Doyle and Marie Collins in charge of the Vatican response to the abuse scandal, with full and overriding powers to clean up the mess. Short of that, he and his cronies are just more hypocrites in a long line of hypocrites.

  9. It is important that Francis has admitted to making errors that harmed people and that damaged the reputation of the Church. This opens the door to recognizing that so did JPII and BXVI, so do and so did bishops, cardinals, priests.

    Now, if we could just recognize that the ability to make “grave errors” has always existed, maybe we could get on with reforming the patriarchal, misogynistic, monarchical, hierarchical, clerical institution that seems stuck in a worldly culture that has long since vanished.

    What we need to do is not look for the next perfect pope, but recognize that all of them are products of their own upbringing, culture, and very human limitations even if they are usually incredibly intelligent and seekers of what is good and right and of God.

  10. No, they won’t, but as a Latin American from a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, I know that his effort to beg their forgiveness will do much to begin the healing with their church.

    Something that you as a skeptical Statesonian wouldn’t begin to comprehend.

  11. Instead of issuing orders that could prevent clerical sex abuse worldwide in the future, the pope will meet with his bishops to “re-establish confidence in the [Chilean] church.”
    After five years, this pope has willfully done nothing to alleviate the pain and suffering of victims.

  12. YES!!!! I have some familiarity with Doyle, but I am pretty sure most readers here will not, so you ought to say a bit more about him and post a link to his web site or blog.

  13. You’re absolutely correct. Among other things, “talk is cheap”.

    Also see the comment above by Alwayspuzzled, re (I think Rev.) Thomas Doyle, and check out Doyle..

  14. “Errors”???!!!! The Pope can go to hell.

  15. According to a few hyper fundamentalists posting on this very pages…

    He will.

    “You’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Tra Lala Lala

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