April 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis has issued a written apology to the bishops of Chile regarding his handling of sex abuse accusations made against a Chilean bishop who has enjoyed his support for years.
Following an investigation on the part of the Vatican that involved interviewing a total of 64 sex abuse victims in Chile and New York regarding Chilean bishop Juan Barros, Francis recognizes that he has committed “grave errors” with regard to the case.
“Regarding me, I recognize and I wish that you convey [to others], that I have fallen into grave errors of evaluation and perception of the situation, due especially to a lack of true and balanced information,” Francis wrote in a letter to the bishops of Chile signed on April 8 and published by the Vatican today.
“I now ask for the forgiveness of all of those whom I offended and I hope to do so personally in the coming weeks, in meetings that I will have with the people who have been interviewed,” he added.
However, the pope did not mention the need for justice against those who have committed sexual abuse, and called instead for “mercy,” warning against the temptation for what he called “verborrea,” which is a colloquial term used to mean “verbosity” or more informally, “verbal diarrhea.” He also made a cryptic warning against “remaining in ‘universals,’” an expression he did not explain, but which may refer to the tendency to generalize. He suggested that Chilean Catholics pray over the matter.
“Today, more than ever, we cannot again fall into the temptation of verbosity or to remain in ‘universals,’” wrote Francis. “These days, let us look to Christ. Let us see his life and his acts, especially when he shows himself to be compassionate and merciful towards those who have erred. Let us love truly. Let us ask for the wisdom of the heart and let us allow ourselves to be converted.”
Francis also wrote of the need to restore “the confidence that has been broken by our errors and sins and to heal certain wounds that do not cease to bleed in Chilean society.”
Francis’ credibility gap with regard to his protégé, Bishop Juan Barros
The pope’s apology to the Chilean bishops follows an explosive controversy in Chile and worldwide regarding Francis’ disparaging remarks towards those who have accused Bishop Juan Barros of knowing about their sexual abuse at the hands of one of his priests. Many were also outraged at Francis' claim that he had not received any testimony from those who said they witnessed Barros’ complicity in their sexual abuse.
Although such accusations have been public for years, Pope Francis has steadfastly defended Barros and has publicly dismissed his accusers’ claims as “slander” against the bishop.
Following a recent trip to Chile, in which the controversy was renewed, Francis publicly stated that no victims had approached him with information about Barros.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will speak. There is not a single piece of proof against him,” Francis told the press. “Everything is slander. Is this clear?” He also later stated: “No one has come forward, they haven't provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague, it's something that can't be accepted.”
On his outgoing flight from Chile, Francis again spoke on the case and told the media, “You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven’t seen any, because they haven’t come forward.”
However, the Associated Press reported in February that Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and president of the Vatican’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, had already received from several members of the same commission a signed testimony by a victim on Barros’ witnessing of the sexual abuse, and that O’Malley had told them he had delivered it to Pope Francis personally.
Although O’Malley did not comment on the Associated Press story, he publicly rebuked Francis for his dismissive statements regarding the accusations against Barros, which had been made by sex abuse victims.
“It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator,” said O’Malley, and added that the pope’s words “abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”