Pope apologizes for 'mistakes' in Chile sex abuse case

Pope Francis acknowledges that he made "serious mistakes in judgment and perception" of the sexual abuse crisis in Chile, and will meet with victims and bishops in an attempt to heal wounds the scandal caused to the Catholic Church.

Pontiff says he will meet with victims and bishops to try to heal wounds

Pope Francis gestures during a general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican this week. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)

Pope Francis acknowledged on Wednesday that he made "serious mistakes in judgment and perception" of the sexual abuse crisis in Chile, and would meet with victims and bishops in an attempt to heal wounds the scandal caused to the Catholic Church.

"I apologize 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, he said in a letter to Chilean bishops that followed a visit to Chile by the Vatican's top sexual abuse investigator.

Chile has been shaken by the case of Bishop Juan Barros, appointed by the Pope in 2015 despite accusations that Barros had covered up sexual abuse of minors by his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima.

Karadima was a charismatic preacher who was removed from the ministry by the Vatican for sexually abusing minors and sentenced in 2011 to a lifetime of penance and prayer. Karadima had long 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.

Hundreds of Catholics gathered at a church in the small Chilean city of Osorno in 2015 when Bishop Juan Barros, centre, was appointed by Francis despite accusations he was covering up for one of the nation's most notorious pedophiles. (Carlos Gutierrez/Reuters)

Francis, who visited Chile in January, at first strongly defended Barros, saying he was the target of slander. Then the Pope dispatched Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican's top sexual crimes investigator, to Chile and New York to interview victims.

Scicluna and his colleague, Rev. Jordi Bertomeu, spent nearly two weeks in Chile and New York earlier this year interviewing Karadima's victims, who for years have denounced Barros's silence and were stunned by Francis's strong defence of him.

Victims bared 'wounds of their souls'

In his letter, Francis thanked the 64 people who testified and had the courage to bare the "wounds of their souls" for the sake of truth. After reading the 2,300-page dossier his envoys prepared, Francis affirmed the victims "spoke in a stark way, without additives or sweeteners, of many crucified lives."

"I confess this caused me pain and shame," he wrote.

The Pope told the bishops he wanted to discuss Scicluna's findings with the victims and asked for their co-operation in order to re-establish serenity in Chile's Catholic churches and "repair the scandal as much as possible and re-establish justice."

In a statement, Barros's three main accusers said they appreciated Francis's request for forgiveness and were weighing his invitation to meet. They said they would continue fighting for reparation and forgiveness "until zero tolerance about abuse and coverup in the church becomes a reality."

With files from The Associated Press