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SANTIAGO, Chile – Pope Francis has praised Chilean bishops for reflecting on their failure to listen to victims of clerical sex abuse.
The pontiff said in a letter to the Chilean church's Episcopal Conference that he is "impressed by the reflection, discernment and decisions" taken by bishops when they met last week.
"May the Lord reward you abundantly for this communal and pastoral effort," the pope said in the letter, which is dated Aug. 5. "The decisions (of the bishops) are realistic and concrete. I'm sure that they will decidedly help on this process."
Earlier this year, Francis publicly denounced a "culture of abuse and cover-up" in Chile's Catholic Church. He also said he was ashamed that neither he nor Chilean church leaders truly ever listened to victims as Chile's abuse scandal spread.
In May, 31 bishops offered their resignation to the pope. So far Francis has accepted the resignations of five.
Chilean prosecutors also recently summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to appear in court and testify about his role in the alleged cover-up of years of abuse.
There are nearly 50 ongoing investigations into alleged sex abuse including about 100 victims, according to local records. The investigations include reports of abuse by bishops, clerics and lay workers.
Francis has admitted he made "grave errors" in judgment in Chile's sex abuse scandal and met with some of the victims in the Vatican to beg their forgiveness.
Among the measures taken to repair the damage, the Chilean Episcopal Conference has begun providing evidence to prosecutors investigating abuse. It is also publishing the names of sanctioned priests on its website, which was done in previous years but had been stopped without explanation.
A survey released Monday said 46 percent of Chileans consider themselves to be Catholic; 83 percent believe the church is neither honest nor transparent, and 96 percent feel the institution covers up or protects priests accused of committing sex abuse. The survey by pollster Cadem included 700 people and had a margin of error of four percentage points.
In recent months, Pope Francis had sent letters criticizing Chilean bishops. But his latest letter shocked victims.
"This letter has become a true praise to the inoperative and the crimes committed by the bishops of Chile," said Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of laypeople in the southern city of Osorno, where a bishop at the heart of the scandal resigned earlier this year.
"We don't understand how the pope values measures that have been presented to us as novelty ... these are old measures and therefore highly insufficient when it comes to combatting negligence and abuse," Claret said.