Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
ROME — Pope Francis will be meeting with 33 Chilean bishops next week, the Vatican said Saturday, to look into “mechanisms that have led to cover-up and grave omissions towards” Chilean victims of clerical sexual abuse.
According to the statement, Francis wanted to meet with the bishops to discuss “the circumstances and the extraordinary challenges [regarding] abuse of power, sexual [abuse] and [abuses] of conscience that have occurred in Chile in the last decades.”
The pope, the statement continues, “thinks it’s necessary to look into causes and consequences, as well as the mechanisms that have led to the cover up and grave omissions towards the victims.”
The meetings between the pope and the Chilean bishops will take place in the Vatican May 15-17. Also present will be Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
Francis first summoned all the Chilean bishops, including the emeriti, to Rome in a letter he sent them on April 8. The letter was motivated by his reading of a 2,300 page report presented to him by Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish priest Jordi Bertomeu, an official of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The pope commissioned that report, which was originally supposed to focus on Bishop Juan Barros, in late January after his trip to Chile and Peru.
In 2015, Francis transferred Barros to the southern diocese of Osorno. However, the transfer caused an uproar from some among the local church and three victims of Father Fernando Karadima, who’s been found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing minors.
His victims assert that Barros, together with three other bishops who were part of the priest’s inner circle, knew of their mentor’s abuses and that the four covered up for Karadima.
During his visit to Chile, Francis was questioned about Barros, and the pope defended him- as he’d done before- saying that the accusations against the bishop were “calumny.”
Yet since then, the pontiff has acknowledged his mistake, claiming that it was in part due to the fact that he didn’t have accurate information.
According to the Vatican statement released on Saturday, the pontiff has continued to receive letters on the Chilean crisis in recent weeks.
The aim for this “long synodal process” is to “discern together, in the presence of God, the responsibility of all and each person for this devastating wound, as well as to study adequate and lasting changes to prevent the repetition of these reprehensible acts.”
“It is essential to restore trust in the Church through good pastors who witness with their life that they have known the voice of the Good Shepherd: who know how to accompany the suffering of the victims and to work in a determined and tireless way in the prevention of abuses,” the statement released by the Vatican’s press office says.
There will be 31 bishops and auxiliary bishops in the meeting, together with two emeriti. Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, accused by Karadima’s victims of having covered up himself, initially decided to skip the meeting. He’s the archbishop emeritus of Santiago and a member of the pope’s “C9,” the council of cardinals who advise him on the reform of the Roman Curia.
Among the reasons he gave, he alleged that the trip was too expensive- it’s not being paid for by the Vatican- that he’d been in Rome two weeks ago to take part in the C9 meetings, and that he’s already given the pope a 14-page report with his view of the fallout of the Karadima case.
On Saturday, however, sources confirmed to Crux that Errazuriz was on his way to Rome after all, and photos of the 84-year-old boarding his flight made the rounds.
According to the statement, the pope appreciates the bishops’ availability to put themselves in a “docile and humble” attitude, and renews his petition to the Chilean people of God to continue in a state of prayer “for the conversion of all.”
The statement also says Francis is not expected to publicly comment on the meetings, that will be held in “strict confidentiality.”