“Getting to the root of problems”

Pope Francis in talks with Chilean bishops © Vatican Media (CBA)

Pope Francis has ended his three-day talks with Chile's bishops on how to deal with the abuse scandal there. At the conclusion, Francis handed each of the bishops a letter and announced personnel consequences.

Pope Francis has announced personnel consequences in a confidential document following the abuse crisis in the Chilean church. However, it is not enough to "only deal with the concrete cases and remove the people in question," the letter, published Friday night by Chilean broadcaster Canal 13, said. "This – and I say this in all clarity – must be done, but it is not enough. 'More needs to be done,' Francis says.

The pope had handed the document to Chile's 34 bishops Tuesday at the start of a meeting at the Vatican to deal with the scandal in the South American country. The three-day talks came to an end on Thursday evening. A press conference of the bishops was announced for Friday noon in Rome.

"Worrying findings"

In the ten-page letter that has now become public, Francis explains that there is an "aching, open wound". This, he said, has so far been treated with a medicine that seems to have done more harm than good. "It would be a grave omission not to tackle the problems at the root."

The pope speaks of troubling findings that his two special investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna and legal expert Jordi Bertomeu, unearthed in February during their research in Chile. For example, he said, several clergy who had been removed for "immoral behavior" had been reinstated in other dioceses. On top of that, they have been entrusted with tasks involving "a daily and direct contact with minors".

Clarification work deliberately obstructed

The investigation shows that there were "gross errors" in the handling of abuse cases, Francis acknowledges. He feels "shame" because in several cases the clarification work has been deliberately obstructed.

The pope also criticizes an "elitist attitude" of some clergy that harms the church because it leads to division and "closed circles". Such persons are only concerned with feeling special – different from the others. They were not really interested in Jesus or in their fellow human beings. Such an attitude, Francis said, is a "perversion in the ecclesiastical existence".

"Restoring justice"

Previously, a first letter had already become known, which Pope Francis had given the bishops to take with them. In it, the Pope expressed gratitude for the "full willingness" to cooperate in all the changes and decisions necessary to restore justice and a sense of community within the Church.

In recent days, they have dealt with "painful incidents," the pope said. There had been abuse in many forms – with tragic consequences for the victims. Francis expressed gratitude for the unstinting willingness everyone has shown, which is needed to make change happen. Short-, medium- and long-term steps are now needed to restore justice and ecclesial communion, the church leader announced. A statement from the bishops' spokesman has been announced for Friday. The talks focused on accusations against Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno and other bishops of covering up sexual offenses against minors and preventing them from being cleared up.

"Great importance for the entire church"

Already at the beginning of Tuesday's deliberations, Francis had given each of the 34 participants a text with some themes to meditate on. This should be studied by everyone until the second meeting on Wednesday afternoon and meditate on it. Two other meetings were held Thursday. It is not yet known whether the pope asked the bishops for individual talks beyond that.

According to Spanish theologian Jordi Bertomeu, the meeting has "great importance for the entire Church". "I believe we are making history," Bertomeu said Thursday. Together with the Maltese archbishop Charles Scicluna he had questioned 64 Chilean abuse victims in February. He expected consequences soon, Bertomeu said. Unlike the abuse scandals in the U.S. and Ireland, Chile is not only about sexual abuse, but also about abuse of power.

"Examining responsibility before God"

The Vatican had announced the meeting with Chile's bishops as a "synodal process". The goal, he said, was to "examine together before God the responsibility of everyone and everything in these devastating violations.". Furthermore, it is about the search for "appropriate and sustainable changes to prevent the repetition of such always condemnable acts".

The meeting was invited by Pope Francis a month ago in a letter in which he asked for an apology. In January of this year, the Pope had visited Chile for a pastoral trip, to a journalist he had rejected allegations against a bishop as "slander".

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