Francis and the Abuse Scandal in Chile


Diego Fares SJ / Church Life / Published Date:23 January 2019/Last Updated Date:6 March 2020

The abuse scandals involving the Church and society in Chile can best be defined as an open, painful and complex wound. This article seeks to convey greater understanding of the process that Francis has instigated to heal this scourge. As this process is ongoing, the main facts and steps taken thus far are presented here chronologically. This article goes on to reflect on the criteria for discernment used by the pope to shed light on a situation in which, as he stated to the Chilean bishops, “we are all involved.”

When a journalist questioned Pope Francis, January 18, 2018, she touched a point that encapsulated a number of issues and in some way triggered a process that has lasted for months. She asked about the Bishop Barros case. The pope said: “The day I have proof, I will speak.”[1]

Three days later, during the pope’s return journey to Rome from Peru, the in-flight press conference was of a previously unseen nature. The journalists who were present agree that the pope made himself available to respond to any questions they wanted to ask him. In fact, the pope asked forgiveness twice for having used the word “proof.” “Here I must apologize, because the word ‘proof’ caused so much pain for so many victims of abuse.”[2] A number of details in the pope’s open parlance make it apparent that he had been moving forward with the victims and with those who had been accused.[3]

In the pope’s gesture – something much discussed with its striking words asking for forgiveness in the first person – we recognize an approach that Fr. Bergoglio had described in 1987 as a condition “proper to the situational context of discernment: to seek interiorly within yourself a state of being that is similar to the external one… in this way you are better disposed for discernment.”[4] The pope accused himself and asked forgiveness for a concrete thing by which he had offended; having accused himself, he could now discern the next steps with greater clarity as this article will now illustrate.

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