Pope Francis, in an extremely rare act of self-criticism, apologised to victims of clerical sex abuse on Sunday, acknowledging he had “wounded many” in comments defending a Chilean bishop who is under scrutiny.
But while the pope said he was sorry for his choice of words and tone of voice when he testily answered a reporter’s question last Thursday in Chile, he also said he was certain that the prelate, Juan Barros, was innocent.
“I have to apologise,” an unusually contrite pope told reporters aboard the plane returning to Rome from a week-long trip to Chile and Peru, saying he realised he had “wounded many people who were abused”.
“I apologise to them if I hurt them without realising it, but it was a wound that I inflicted without meaning to,” he said. “It pains me very much.” In the latest twist to a saga that has gripped Chile, Francis said Barros, who is accused of protecting a notorious paedophile, would remain in his place in the diocese of Osorno because there currently was no credible evidence against him Last Thursday, a Chilean reporter managed to get close the pope at the end of an event and shouted out a question about Barros.
“The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?” the pope replied in a snippy tone. His comments were seen as trying to dismiss the credibility of accusers and was widely criticised by victims, their advocates and newspaper editorials in Chile and the pope’s native Argentina.
On Saturday, even Cardinal Sean O‘Malley of Boston, a key papal adviser, distanced himself with a statement saying the pope had caused “great pain.”