SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Roman Catholic Church said on Thursday that more than 30 bishops would meet next week with Pope Francis in Rome in an attempt to make amends for the damage caused by a sex abuse scandal that has long plagued the country’s clergy.
Days ahead of the meeting, Chile’s Episcopal Conference, a group of bishops that leads the Church, said in a statement that it felt the same “pain and embarrassment” expressed in April by Pope Francis after meeting with victims of Fernando Karadima, a former Chilean priest accused of pedophilia.
Chile’s bishops will travel to Rome from May 14-17.
“Pope Francis’ embrace [of these victims] serves as an example for the Church as it confronts accusations of abuse of conscience, sexual abuse and any other abuse of power that may have occurred in our communities,” the conference said.
However, a key figure in the scandal, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, a retired archbishop of Santiago who sits on the Pope’s kitchen cabinet, will be absent for personal reasons, Chile’s La Tercera paper quoted him as saying.
Abuse survivors have accused Errazuriz and several prominent bishops of covering up the abuse committed by Karadima and seeking to discredit victims.
The Chilean Church did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Vatican investigation in 2011 found Karadima guilty of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s, but he never faced civilian justice because of the country’s statute of limitations.
The scandal was a factor in a proposal last week by Chile’s government to remove the statute of limitations on sex crimes in the country.
In January the pope sent one of the Vatican’s most experienced sexual abuse investigators, Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, to New York and Chile to speak with the bishop’s accusers and other bishops.
Scicluna produced a 2,300-page report, which prompted Pope Francis to acknowledge that he had made “grave mistakes” in handling the sexual abuse crisis in Chile and to call the country’s bishops to Rome next week.
Such gatherings are rare and usually take place in a period of crisis in a national Church. A similar meeting took place in Rome with American bishops in 2002 during the papacy of Pope John Paul after a sexual abuse crisis exploded in the United States.
Church leaders in Chile have also called for a “drastic solution” to the long-running scandal, including resignations and dismissals.
Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Richard Chang