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Vatican tries to defuse scandal, says pope meets victims

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VATICAN CITY –  The Vatican is confirming that Pope Francis frequently meets with victims of sex abuse, seeking to defuse a mounting scandal over his unbridled support for a Chilean bishop accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring their abuse.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Thursday that several times a month, Francis meets in private with victims individually or in groups to listen to their stories "and help them to heal their serious wounds."

Francis is facing one of the gravest crises of his papacy after he dismissed victims' complaints that Chilean Bishop Juan Barros covered-up their abuse. Francis called their accusations slander and said he was certain of Barros' innocence.

After his comments sparked outrage, Francis was forced to do an about-face and send in a Vatican investigator to look into Barros.

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