Pope Francis admitted Wednesday he had made "grave mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation" in Chile after reading the findings of an investigation into sexual abuse committed by the clergy in the country.
Francis said in a letter to Chilean Bishops released by the Vatican that he intended to summon them to Rome to discuss the investigation, which involves Bishop Juan Barros' alleged cover-up of abuse by priests in his diocese.
During a trip to Chile in January, Pope Francis had strongly defended Barros, accused of concealing and even witnessing the abuses of paedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Argentine pontiff said that he was convinced of Barros' innocence and demanded "proof" of abuse before he would speak out against him.
"There is not a single piece of proof against him. Everything is slander. Is this clear?" Francis said.
However he later apologised to the victims and dispatched Archbishop Charles Scicluna, a renowned Vatican investigator, to Chile to collect evidence. Scicluna returned at the end of February.
Francis made no specific mention of Barros in his letter to the 32 Chilean bishops.
But he expressed his "shame" and "pain" for the suffering of the victims and pledged to meet them.