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Pope Cites 'Grave Errors' In Handling Of Chile Sex Abuse Scandal

Pope Cites 'Grave Errors' In Handling Of Chile Sex Abuse Scandal

The Vatican orders up such emergency visits only on rare occasions, when Vatican intervention is urgently required, such as when the clerical sex abuse scandal exploded in the United States in 2002.

While seeking to soothe tensions, the pope drew ire in January after he came to the support of Juan Barros, a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse committed by a priest named Fernando Karadima.

Then soon after his visit, Pope Francis, in a stunning about-face, chose 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.

Protesters and victims said Bishop Barros is guilty of protecting Fr Karadima and was physically present while some of the abuse was going on.

The investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, is president of a board of review within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; the board handles appeals filed by clergy accused of abuse or other serious crimes.

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.

Pope Francis wrote they must now work together to "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".

Earlier, Francis defended Bishop Juan Barros, telling reporters the accusations amounted to slander and asked for proof.

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.

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

Karadima was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011, despite insisting his innocence, and banished to a life of penance and prayer. Karadima had always 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 Bertomeu, spent almost two weeks in Chile and NY earlier this year interviewing Karadima's victims, who for years denounced Barros' silence and were stunned by Francis' strong defence of him. "I confess this caused me pain and shame", the pope wrote in the letter, referring to the dossier, according to a translation provided by the Associated Press.

"I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some of the ministers of the Church", he said.

In a letter to the bishops of Chile, the pope said he made "serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information". The head of the Catholic Church asked for forgiveness "from all those I have offended", saying he hoped to do so personally in coming days, in a series of meetings in Rome with representatives of the people interviewed.

In a statement, Barros' three main accusers said they appreciated Francis request for forgiveness and were weighing his invitation to meet. The Pope had appointed Barros to the post in 2015 despite the allegations against the bishop.

In his letter, Francis said the Chilean Church now had "to fix the scandal as much as possible and restore justice".