Ahead of a meeting on the clerical abuse scandal in Chile, Pope Francis has been speaking to bishops' consciences. The talks, which run from Tuesday through Thursday, will be held in camera.
Without specifically addressing the situation in the South American country, the pope asked at his morning Mass Tuesday at the Vatican "that the Lord give us the grace to say goodbye". Francis referred to the farewell sermon of the Apostle Paul, with which the latter handed over responsibility for the Christian community in Ephesus.
He is thinking "of all bishops," the pope said. He prayed that each could leave office "with this spirit, this strength, this love for Jesus Christ, this confidence in the Holy Spirit". Referring to himself, Francis said, "I'm not going out of there a winner like Paul – but the Lord is kind, he is merciful."
Confidential three-day consultations
From Tuesday afternoon through Thursday, the pope will consult with 31 current bishops and three bishops emeritus about consequences of a decades-long abuse scandal in Chile. At ie are accusations against Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno and other bishops of covering up sexual offenses against minors and preventing them from being cleared up.
According to Gonzalez and the secretary general of the bishops' conference, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos of Santiago, the exact course of the three-day deliberations, which the pope wants to remain strictly confidential, was unknown even to the participants until Monday evening. Nor is it clear, he said, what information Francis has from the files of a Vatican special investigator. A joint mass is not planned.
"Pain and shame" over abuse
In a press conference Monday evening, representatives of the Chilean Bishops' Conference confessed "pain and shame" and acknowledged the need to improve self-criticism and prevention of abuse. But Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez of the national church abuse commission also said his public defense of Barros during the pope's visit to Chile in January was an "act of charity".
There were "mistakes that should not have happened," said the secretary general of the Chilean Bishops' Conference, Auxiliary Bishop Fernando Ramos of Santiago, in Rome on Monday evening. A "spirit of renewal and change" is needed to overcome the crisis, Ramos said.
On the demand for concrete consequences, Ramos said these are "measures that the Holy Father must take". When asked about their wishes for a solution, Ramos and Gonzalez answered evasively that they were not entitled to a decision. He does not know whether bishops have already offered their resignation, Ramos said. – The press conference took place in the broadcasting house of Radio Vatican, without the Vatican informing about it.
Press conference but no statement from Francis
Francis said in advance he would not comment on the talks during or after the meeting. The Chilean bishops' press conference, which was also attended by Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez as a representative of the national church abuse commission, took place at the Vatican Radio broadcasting house but was not announced by the Vatican.
Already two weeks ago, the Pope had spoken for several days with three victims of abuse of a Chilean priest. The latter subsequently expressed positive views about the talks with Francis, but also demanded clear and effective responses.