The Pope’s top adviser on clerical abuse has implicitly criticised the pontiff over his accusations of slander against Chilean victims, saying his words were “a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse”.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley said he could not explain why Francis “chose the particular words he used”.

The senior cleric insisted that Francis “fully recognises the egregious failures of the church and its clergy who abused children and the devastating impact those crimes have had on survivors and their loved ones”.

Francis sparked national uproar upon leaving Chile on Thursday by accusing victims of the country’s most notorious paedophile priest of having slandered another bishop by saying he knew of the abuse, but did nothing about it.