Pope Francis apologises for defending Chilean bishop

Pope Francis apologises defending Chilean bishop
Pope Francis. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Pope’s Rome invitation to abused increases hopes he’ll meet Irish survivors

Pope Francis last week apologised fervently for his terribly misguided defense of a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse by an infamous pedophile priest.

Many admirers of Francis, 81, had feared that his apparent defence of the indefensible meant he was incapable of recognising the Church has often placed its own institutional self-preservation above those abused by priests. It potentially means a greater chance of the Pope meeting survivors of clerical abuse when he visits Ireland in August.

The Pope’s heartfelt u-turn is being credited to the Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a close Francis ally, who was appointed to repair the harm caused to the Boston diocese’s reputation by its cover-ups of clerical abuse over many years. He was reported by one US commentator to have “read Francis whatever the Roman equivalent of the riot act.”

Notorious

The Argentinean Pope Francis had adamantly defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up abuse by the country’s most notorious pedophile priest. In a letter to the bishops of Chile a remorseful pope invited representatives of the abuse victims to Rome so that he could personally apologise.

A spokesman for the Chilean bishops’ conference said that some of the victims would go in the coming weeks, and that the Pope would individually ask for their forgiveness.

Francis also summoned the country’s 32 bishops to meet at the Vatican in May to discuss clerical sex abuse. In the pope’s letter he said that a delegation led by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, a Maltese prelate charged with the task of ending clerical sex abuse and bringing abusers and conspirators to justice, had heard 2,300 pages of testimony from 64 people in Santiago and New York.

That, said Pope Francis, moved him to write his letter of profound apology.

“As far as my role, I acknowledge, and ask you to convey faithfully, that I have made grave errors in assessment and perception of the situation, especially as a result of lack of information that was truthful and balanced.

“From this time I ask forgiveness to all those that I offended and I hope to do so personally, in the following weeks, in meetings that I will hold with representatives of the people who were interviewed.”

In his visit to Chile and Peru in January the pope strongly defended Bishop Juan Barros Madrid and appeared to cast aspersion on his accusers, the victims of abuse who had long claimed the bishop had witnessed and covered up abuse by his mentor, the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Pope Francis later told reporters he had twice rejected the attempted resignation of Bishop Barros, whom he appointed to the diocese of Osorno in 2015 because he was convinced of his innocence.

Then Cardinal Sean O’ Malley had hand-delivered to the Pope a victim’s letter to Francis with a graphic account of how Bishop Barros had observed abuse by a priest. That prompted Pope Francis to send Archbishop Scicluna to Chile in January “as a result of some information received regarding the case.

Exhortation

Last week’s letter, published just days after the Pope’s exhortation to live their lives as everyday saints and to admit when they get things wrong, was contrite, humble and set an entirely different tone to that adopted by the Pope as recently as January. He said the investigators of clerical abuse often felt “overwhelmed” by “so many victims of grave abuses of conscience and of power and in particular of the sexual abuses committed by various clergymen of your country against minors, who were robbed of their innocence.”

He said: “As far as my role, I acknowledge, and ask you to convey faithfully, that I have made grave errors in assessment and perception of the situation, especially as a result of lack of information that was truthful and balanced.

“From this time I ask forgiveness to all those that I offended and I hope to do so personally, in the following weeks, in meetings that I will hold with representatives” of those affected.”

His letter to the Church in Chile continued: “I assure you of my prayers and I want to share with you the conviction that the present difficulties are also an occasion to re-establish the trust in the church, broken by our mistakes and sins, and to heal wounds that haven’t stopped bleeding in Chilean society.”

Chilean victim Juan Carlos Cruz said in response: “It seems like he is ready to make some much-needed changes that will not only affect the church in Chile, which is in dire need of new bishops, and stop the cover-up of sexual abuse, but it would also send a sign to all the world that zero tolerance is zero tolerance.”

Limitations

Just last week in his Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) the Pope said the “lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us.”

In the same document he said the Church would continue to defend “the innocent unborn” but stressed the importance of seeing the “lives of the poor, those already born,” as “equally sacred” Francis criticised politicians for “looking for votes” in trying to make abortion a more important issue than “the situation of migrants”.

A true Christian would not, said the Pope. True holiness, he said, demanded engagement with “the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged” as he urged bishops “to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”

Returning to his theme of everyday, unsung, ordinary saints he said “the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially codetermined by souls whom no history book ever mentions.”


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