ROME – An investigator assigned by Pope Francis to visit Chile’s southern diocese of Osorno, which has been the epicenter of that country’s clerical sexual abuse scandals, has said the pontiff instructed him to ask forgiveness for the suffering those scandals have caused.
“Pope Francis has tasked me to ask each one of the faithful of the diocese of Osorno and all the inhabitants of this territory to apologize for having hurt you and deeply offended you,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta during a Mass he led on Sunday, closing the June 14-17 pastoral visit.
Scicluna, together with Spanish Father Jordi Bertomeu, was sent to Chile by Francis for a June 12-19 pastoral visit in the country. This is the second time this year that the pontiff sent the two men to the Latin American country. The first, in February, was for them to investigate the case of Bishop Juan Barros, whom the pontiff appointed to Osorno in 2015.
The pope’s decision caused uproar both in the diocese and among the victims of Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, who in 2011 was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors, but also of abuses of power and conscience.
Until late January of this year, Francis publicly supported Barros. During his trip to Chile, he said the accusations against Barros were a “calumny.” Back in 2015, he was caught on video saying that those in the Diocese of Osorno protesting against Barros were being “led by the nose by leftists.”
Yet something happened after his return to Rome, that led him to send Scicluna and Bertomeu to Chile to look into Barros. They came back with a 2,300 page report, a product of their conversations with 64 people.
This led to the pope changing his attitude regarding the Chilean crisis. He publicly apologized for his wrongdoing, invited two groups of victims to meet with him at his personal residence at the Vatican, and summoned the entire bishops’ conference for a three-day meeting.
After their encounter with the pope in April, the bishops submitted their resignation en masse. On Monday, Francis accepted the first three, including Barros’.
During their pastoral visit to Osorno, the two papal envoys met with the local religious community, as well as the laity, holding encounters at a local parish and the cathedral, where Sunday’s Mass took place.
Talking to local journalists before the Mass, Scicluna said: “Reconciliation is a gift from the Lord, not an action from man, we can say this with a lot of humility. Everyone is invited, everyone is free to accept or reject [the invitation].”
The original document by Scicluna and Bertomeu remains confidential, but in the past month, since the Chilean bishops have been to Rome and back, presenting their resignations to Francis, ample evidence has arisen showing just how big the problem is.
The homily for Sunday’s Mass was tasked to Bishop Jorge Concha, apostolic administrator of Osorno until the pope appoints a permanent bishop. He received several ovations during his homily, the first one when he referred to the lay people of the diocese.
“I was able to learn of the existence of people in many places who’ve already begun walking in this direction of encounter, and I have seen that the desire of unity is very alive in all of you,” he said. “And all around the world, the great protagonist’s role assumed by the lay men and women of Osorno is well known.”
“Christ is the one who has to be at the center of our lives, but this is not always so,” Concha said. “Putting Jesus in the center means to identify ourselves with Jesus, and to act like him, who gives himself to the service of the hungry, the imprisoned, the migrant, the abused, to the point that he becomes present in them.”
“Those who’ve never failed to put [Jesus] at the center sometime, can throw the first stone,” he said, causing the second ovation from the faithful, who packed the cathedral.
Before the Mass, the group known as “Lay Men and Women of Osorno” released a statement, explaining their decision to attend the Mass: “We’ve decided to take a step forward and, after three years, go into our cathedral and participate in the Mass on the Day of the Lord, making it absolutely clear that this is not a Mass of reparation nor reconciliation […], but to welcome the apostolic administrator, hoping that a path of reconciliation will begin with him.”