Pope Francis admits 'grave mistakes' in Chile child sex abuse scandal

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In a public letter released Wednesday, the pope for the first time admitted "grave errors" in his response to the scandal and announced a rare emergency meeting with all of Chile's bishops.

He told Chilean bishops in a letter that he would apologise to each victim in person.

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.

Critics accused Pope Francis of not understanding the depth of the crisis after he initially defended Bishop Juan Barros and said he was the victim of slander.

In Chile and during an airborne press conference returning to Rome, Francis accused the victims of "calumny" for pressing their case against Barros, demanded they present "proof" of their claims and revealed he had twice rejected Barros' resignation.

He said he felt shame reading Archbishop Scicluna's 2,300-page report and thanked the 64 people who testified for their courage in bearing the "wounds of their souls". In 2011, Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys. The Pope had visited Peru and Chile in the month of January after there were accusations on him of failing to handle allegations of clerical sex abuse which took place in both the countries.

The Catholic leader made the extraordinary admissions in a letter to Chilean bishops and summoned them to the Vatican for a crisis meeting. He said his perception was "due to a lack of truthful and balanced information".

But Francis had plenty of factual information at his disposal that he apparently did not take into account: The executive committee of Chile's bishops' conference had recommended Barros resign and take a sabbatical.

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In addition, he summoned all of Chile's 32 bishops to Rome to discuss the conclusions of Archbishop Scicluna's report in the third week of May, where they will discussion the conclusions of the report as well the Pope's own conclusions on the matter.

The Pope in his letter has said that, "Today I want to speak to you not of assurances, but...the joy, the peace of forgiveness of our sins and the action of his grace".

"He is sort of calling a spiritual state of emergency, which shows how seriously he takes the situation", Burke said. He then went to Santiago to interview additional witnesses related to the case.

The pope has often spoken out about sexual abuse, and has vowed zero tolerance towards what he has described as a "great humiliation" for the Catholic Church. He served as the congregation's Promoter of Justice for 17 years, and is widely known for his expertise in the canonical norms governing allegations of sexual abuse.

Let's just say it is very clear now the Pope has a complete picture of the situation and I think certainly, yes, obviously other things, diverse things did come in in the past, but that happens all the times, with all sorts of people.

However, he later apologised to the victims and dispatched Scicluna, a renowned Vatican investigator, to Chile to collect evidence.

The bishops, he said, shared in the pope's pain.

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