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Pope castigates Chilean bishops over sexual abuse cover-up

(Reuters/Tony Gentile)Pope Francis leaves after leading the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican December 9, 2015.

Pope Francis reportedly issued a harsh rebuke against Chile's bishops on Saturday for their role in the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Church as well as their failings in caring for victims.

The bishops were reportedly summoned to Rome for a meeting this week. A statement about the meeting indicated that Francis wanted to determine the parties responsible for the problem and outline changes to the Chilean Church to prevent future incidents of sexual abuse.

"It is fundamental to re-establish trust in the church through good pastors ... who know how to accompany the suffering of victims and work in a determined and tireless way to prevent abuse," the statement read, as reported by the Associated Press.

Church officials in Chile have been facing criticisms from abuse victims for years for their alleged role in protecting abusers by trying to discredit the victims' claims and move the accused from one parish to another instead of turning them over to proper authorities.

This week, Francis is expected to meet with 31 Chilean bishops as part of an "in-depth examination of the causes and consequences" of sexual abuse in the South American country.

The pope had already met three whistleblowers in the scandal in his residence at the Santa Marta hotel three weeks ago. The pontiff privately spoke with Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo about their abuse for hours before he invited them to attend his weekly Sunday blessing at the palace.

Following the meetings, the three victims had said they felt that they are finally being heard. They expressed their belief that the pope understood the extent of the crisis in the Chilean church.

Francis had admitted last month that he made "grave mistakes" in handling the situation because he was misinformed.

One church official being investigated by the Vatican was Bishop Juan Barros, who was appointed by Francis in 2015 despite accusations that he was involved in covering up the abuse committed by his mentor, Fr. Fernando Karadima.

Francis defended Barros during his trip to Chile in January, saying the bishop was innocent and that the allegations against him amount to "slander."

The pope backtracked on his remarks after reading a 2,300-page report that included testimonies from 64 victims, priests and laity.

The Associated Press reported that the bishops had initially defended themselves, saying they had been straightforward with the pope regarding Barros.

However, the bishops admitted in a statement last week that they "hadn't always managed to heal the wounds" of sexual abuse.

The Church officials further noted that the pope's meeting with the victims had "showed the path that the Chilean church is called to follow."

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