After the Pope’s Extraordinary Apology for Chilean Abuse Case, What Comes Next?


National Catholic Register, 13 April 2018

The Holy Father’s admission of serious errors in judgment will have major consequences for Chile’s own Church leaders.

There has never been anything quite like the letter, dated Divine Mercy Sunday, that Pope Francis wrote to the bishops of Chile. In passionate, penitential and prayerful prose, the Holy Father reversed himself completely on the very issue that so marred his apostolic visit to Chile earlier this year.

He offered a sincere, frank and humble apology for mishandling the case of Bishop Juan Barros. He had appointed Barros in 2015 to be bishop of Osorno, Chile, despite accusations that Bishop Barros had been aware that his mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, had sexually abused minors and did nothing to prevent it or report it.

For three years, the Holy Father refused to reconsider the appointment, despite being begged to do so by the leadership of the Chilean bishops’ conference, despite the insistence of Father Karadima’s victims, despite a widespread consensus in Chile that Bishop Barros is unsuitable and despite the bishop himself offering to resign, not once but twice.

The Holy Father’s denunciations of his critics on the Bishop Barros matter — accusing them of being stupid, of being politically manipulated and of being guilty of the serious sin of calumny — were ferocious in their intensity.

Now, after receiving the report of the Church’s most senior sex-crimes investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the contrition is similarly intense. The Holy Father will meet in person with some of the victims later this month in Rome to ask forgiveness in person.

The only recent precedent for a personal papal apology was the letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote in March 2009, after lifting the excommunication on bishops who had been illicitly consecrated in the Society of St. Pius X. One of them, unbeknownst to the Holy Father, was a Holocaust-denier, and the affair became a global conflagration that threatened Catholic-Jewish relations. Benedict then wrote a letter to the bishops of the world explaining what had happened and expressing regret for his mistakes.

The letter of Pope Francis, though, is more far-reaching, because the offense was greater: not a onetime oversight, but a mistaken judgment sustained and defended over several years.

“I have made serious mistakes in the judgement and perception of the situation, especially due to a lack of truthful and balanced information,” Francis wrote.

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