Pope Francis says he made “grave errors” in handling a Chilean sex abuse scandal in a letter Wednesday to the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Chile released Wednesday.
The letter comes after a March report detailing interviews with 64 people affected by the scandal.
In the letter, published by the Episcopal Conference, the Pope asked for forgiveness.
“At this very moment, I ask forgiveness to all those I have offended and I hope to personally do this as well in the next few weeks, in the meetings I will have with the representatives of the people interviewed,” he wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday.
In this week’s letter, the Pope wrote that after reading the lengthy report and the testimonies collected that he felt “pain and shame.”
The Catholic Church has been embroiled in a worldwide abuse scandal for more than a decade, with thousands of priests accused of sexually assaulting tens of thousands of children.
The United States, Ireland and the Netherlands have all been shaken by reports of widespread abuse.
In Australia alone, a Royal Commission into allegations against religious institutions found 7% of Australia’s Catholic priests had been accused of abusing children.
In recent months, Cardinal George Pell, a senior adviser to Pope Francis and Australia’s most senior Catholic official, has appeared at a series of committal hearings at a magistrates court in Melbourne over allegations of historic sexual assault. Pell has vehemently denied the allegations.
‘Bring me proof’
In January, Pope Francis’ South America trip, billed as a pilgrimage of peace and unity, struck a controversial chord after he defended a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse.
In the port city of Iquique, Chile, his last stop before heading to Peru, Francis defended Bishop Juan Barros, telling reporters the accusations amounted to slander, according to BioBioChile radio.
“The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, that’s the day when I’ll talk,” Francis said.
Residents of the southern Chilean city of Osorno vehemently objected to Francis’ 2015 appointment of Barros as bishop there.
Accusers have said Barros covered up for the Rev. Fernando Karadima, whom the Vatican found guilty of child sex abuse.
According to Crux, a Catholic news outlet, Karadima was convicted of pedophilia and abuse of his position in 2011. He was sentenced to a life of penitence and prayer.
Barros has denied knowing about what he called the “serious abuses” of Karadima and has said he never approved or participated in those actions. In Chile, Pope Francis apologized to victims of abuse by priests. He also met privately with some of them.
CNN’s Natalie Gallón and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.