Letter from Rome

Pope's letter of apology helps resolve church crisis in Chile
Letter from Rome

Pope Francis leads Mass for the meeting of the missionaries of mercy in St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican on April 10. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Robert Mickens, Rome
April 16, 2018
Pope Francis last week took the extraordinary step of apologizing to Catholics in Chile for making a big mistake in 2015. That"s when he ignored the protests of the people in the small diocese of Osorno and appointed as their spiritual leader Bishop Juan Barros, a man long accused of covering-up clerical sexual abuse of minors.

In an unprecedented letter to the entire hierarchy in the South American country, he admitted to feeling "pain and shame" that people who had repeatedly told church authorities they were sexually abused by priests "were not taken seriously."

In the most moving and dramatic lines of his letter, the pope said: "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 [in February by papal envoys investigating the abuse and cover-up charges]."

Not only did Francis invite the victims — whom he previously had dismissed as committing slander — to come to Rome, he also summoned all of Chile"s bishops to the Vatican for a meeting in mid-May.

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