Pope admits 'grave error,' apologizes for not believing Chilean sex abuse victims

Pope admits 'grave error,' apologizes for not believing Chilean sex abuse victims

"I apologise to all those I have offended, and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings I will have (with victims)", the pope said in the letter. Francis himself received a personal letter from a victim in 2015 detailing Barros' wrongdoing.

In the letter, Francis announced he was summoning all 32 Chilean bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting to discuss short, medium and long-term changes in the local church.

The climbdown follows a visit to Chile by one of the Vatican's most experienced sexual abuse investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who investigated claims that Bishop Juan Barros, who was appointed by the pope in 2015, had covered up sexual abuse of minors by his mentor Father Fernando Karadima.

Then soon after his visit, Pope Francis, in a stunning about-face, made a decision to send to Chile Archbishop Scicluna - the Catholic Church's top expert on investigating sex abuse - to review "recently received information concerning the case" of Bishop Barros.

The error in judgement that the Pope has spoken about is in the context of him defending Bishop Juan Barros who is a protégé of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

While in Chile, Archbishop Scicluna interviewed some 64 people related to the accusations and compiled an report that is some 2,300 pages long, which he delivered to Pope Francis March 20.

Critics accused the Pope of not understanding the depth of the crisis after he initially defended Barros and said he was the victim of slander. "It's all calumny. Is that clear?" the pope lashed out against Barros's accusers only months ago, in January.

'The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not one piece of evidence against him. It is all slander.

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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.

Other clerics more favorable to Barros had Francis' ear, such as the Vatican ambassador, who has always been hostile to Barros' accusers.

However, few days after is trip Pope Francis dispatched Archbishop Scicluna to the country for a two-week investigation. He also expressed his sadness and said that scandal had done huge damage to his reputation and the reputation of Chilean church.

However, he admitted "obviously we didn't do everything we should have done". They said they would continue fighting for reparation and forgiveness "until zero tolerance about abuse and cover-up in the church becomes a reality".

The pope's letter did not reveal Mgr Scicluna's conclusions, but he said he wanted to discuss the findings with the bishops and asked for their cooperation in order re-establish serenity in Chile's Church and "repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice".

Pope Francis said he wanted to meet with the bishops to discern immediate and long-term steps to "re-establish ecclesial communion in Chile in order to fix the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice".

However, they said specific measures, including the resignation of Barros, were needed to restore confidence in the Church.

Such gatherings are rare and usually take place in a period of crisis in a national Church, such as when the US paedophile priest scandal broke in 2002.