VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis wants Chile’s bishops to owe up to the “devastating wounds” inflicted on the Church’s credibility by a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, serving notice that his coming meetings with them will be blunt.
The pope’s unequivocal stand was made clear in a stern Vatican statement on Saturday, ahead of a visit next week by Chilean bishops who Francis summoned for an explanation of why he was misinformed about the extent of the scandal.
The statement said the pope believed there was a need “to deeply examine the causes and consequences, as well as the mechanisms, that in some cases led to cover-ups and grave omissions regarding the victims”.
In a dramatic U-turn last month, Pope Francis said in a letter to the bishops that he had made “grave mistakes” in the handling of the sexual abuse crisis because he had been misinformed.
The letter followed a Vatican investigation into Bishop Juan Barros, who was appointed by the pope in 2015 despite allegations that he had covered up sexual abuse of minors by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima. Barros has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.
During his trip to Chile in January, the pope said he had no proof against Barros, believed he was innocent and that accusations against him were “slander” until proven otherwise.
The statement prompted an uproar among Chileans.
Days after he returned to the Vatican, the pope, citing unspecified new information he had received, did a turnaround and sent the Vatican’s most respected sexual abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, to investigate.
Saturday’s Vatican statement said the pope expected the bishops to be “docile and humble” at the meetings in order to determine “collective and individual responsibility for these devastating wounds” and implement long-lasting changes to avoid a repeat of abuse.
“It is fundamental to re-establish trust in the Church,” the statement said. Polls in Chile show that the credibility of the Church there has plummeted because of the scandal.
Barros is expected to be among the 31 active bishops and two retired bishops at the May 15-17 closed-door meetings.
However, a key figure in the scandal, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, a retired archbishop of Santiago who is one of nine cardinals from around the world who make up a papal advisory panel on general affairs, will be absent for personal reasons, Chile’s La Tercera paper quoted him as saying.
Abuse survivors have accused Errazuriz of discrediting victims and not investigating their cases. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Last month, Francis held four days of meetings with Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, three men who were abused by Karadima when they were teenagers in Santiago.
Karadima was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s. But he never faced civilian justice because of the statute of limitations.
Now 87 and living in a nursing home in Chile, Karadima has always denied the allegations.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Clelia Oziel