Pope invites Chilean sex abuse victims to Vatican for private meetings

Pope Francis said he'd ask for the men's forgiveness.

The pope thanked the men -- Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo -- for having accepted his invitation, saying he will "ask for their forgiveness, share their pain for what they suffered, and above all, listen to all their suggestions to ensure that these reproachable incidents are never repeated."

The men have accused Bishop Juan Barros and others in the Chilean Church hierarchy of covering up Father Fernando Karadima’s alleged sex crimes. The Vatican removed Karadima from the ministry in 2011 following reports that he sexually abused minors and he was sentenced to a lifetime of penance and prayer. Karadima later refuted the accusations of sexual abuse of children in a civil court in Chile in 2015. He was not sentenced because the statute of limitations had expired although the judge said he found the accusations truthful.

Barros reportedly has offered his resignation to the pope in the past, who has rejected it.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters today that Francis "will see each of the men individually, to allow that each can speak as long as he felt he wanted to."

Burke added that the pope asked for prayers for the Chilean church during this painful period, hoping that "these meetings can be conducted in a climate of serene trust and can be an important step to ensure healing and that abuses of conscience, power, and especially, sex, will never again occur within the church."

The three were invited to the Vatican after Francis received a 2,300-page report by Bishop Charles Scicluna. The report was never made public but supposedly included the testimonies of 64 individuals who spoke about sex abuse cases of minors by the clergy and the subsequent cover-up by the Chilean church.

Many people, especially Chileans, had been shocked and dismayed by the pope’s comments about the Chilean cases during his trip, when he said he didn’t believe there was any substance to the accusations and had accused the victims of slander.

In an unusual about face, the pope admitted "grave errors" in judgment and sent Archbishop Scicluna to Chile to conduct a thorough investigation into the accusations. Scicluna is known to have conducted innumerable investigations into sexual abuse by clergy on behalf of the Holy See and of having led a Vatican board that reviews such cases. On receiving the report, the pope admitted to having misjudged the cases and blamed a lack of "truthful and balanced information."

The pope wrote a letter to Chilean bishops in April explaining his decision to invite the Chilean victims to the Vatican. He told the bishops to prepare themselves for an emergency summit in the coming weeks to discuss the scandal, which has hurt his reputation and that of the Chilean church. Barros is expected to attend the summit.