MercoPress, en Español

Montevideo, November 15th 2018 - 06:17 UTC

Francis in Chile: modest enthusiasm for a Laitn American country, and protest groups

Tuesday, January 16th 2018 - 09:32 UTC
Full article 2 comments
Francis was greeted by President Michelle Bachelet and a band played while the two walked on a red carpet as night began to fall. Francis was greeted by President Michelle Bachelet and a band played while the two walked on a red carpet as night began to fall.

Pope Francis flew in to Chile's capital Monday evening for a visit expected to be met with protests over sexual abuse by priests and confronted by many Chileans deeply skeptical about the Roman Catholic Church. It's the pope's first visit to Chile, a nation of 17 million people since taking the reins of the church in 2013.

 But it also comes at a time when many Chileans are furious over Francis' 2015 decision to appoint a bishop close to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who the Vatican found guilty in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades. The Rev. Juan Barros, bishop of the southern city of Osorno, has always denied he knew what Karadima was doing when he was the priest's protege, a position that many Chileans have a hard time believing.

After deplaning, Francis was greeted by President Michelle Bachelet and a band played while the two walked on a red carpet as night began to fall. The pope traveled in a black sedan to the center of the city, flanked by several cars. He then transferred to a popemobile, waving to small crowds of well-wishers who lined up along avenues.

Crowds were notably thin, particularly compared to papal visits in other Latin American countries. “Long live the pope!” yelled some as he passed by in the pope mobile. Others carried signs criticizing the pope or extolling him to act. “Stop the abuse, Francis!” read one sign. “You can so you must!”

Over the next three days, Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Santiago, the southern city of Temuco and the northern city of Iquique. On Thursday, the pope will go to Peru for a three-day visit.

Francis' trip was aimed at highlighting the plight of immigrants and indigenous peoples and underscoring the need to preserve the Amazon rain forest. However, sexual abuse by priests has taken front and center in the weeks before his arrival.

Hours before Francis landed, activists on issues related to sex abuse by priests called for sanctions against both abusers and anyone who helped cover up their actions. About 200 people attended the first of several activities aimed at making the sex abuse scandal a central topic of Francis' time in the country.

The majority of Chileans continue to declare themselves Roman Catholics, but the church has lost the influence and moral authority it once enjoyed thanks to the scandals, secularization and an out-of-touch clerical caste.

The pope will try to inject new energy into the church during his visit, which gets underway in earnest on Tuesday with a series of protocol visits for church and state.

He also plans sessions with migrants, members of Chile's Mapuche indigenous group and victims of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. It remains to be seen if he will meet with sex abuse survivors. A meeting wasn't on the agenda, but such encounters never are.

Chile's church earned wide respect during the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet because it spoke out against the military's human rights abuses, but it began a downward spiral in 2010 when victims of a charismatic, politically connected priest came forward with allegations that he had kissed and fondled them.

Local church leaders had ignored the complaints against Karadima for years, but they were forced to open an official investigation after the victims went public and Chilean prosecutors started investigating. The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes, but the church leadership hasn't won back Chileans' trust for having covered up Karadima's crimes for so long.

“The Karadima case created a ferocious wound,” said Chile's ambassador to the Holy See, Mariano Fernandez Amunategui. He and others inside the Vatican speak openly of a Chilean church “in crisis” as a result, a remarkable admission of the scandal's toll on a church that wielded such political clout that it helped stave off laws legalizing divorce and abortion until recently.

Chileans' disenchantment has even affected their views of the pope himself. A recent survey by Latinobarometro, a respected regional polling firm, found that Chile had a lower esteem for history's first Latin American pope than 18 other Central and South American countries. Even among Chilean Catholics, only 42 percent approve of the job Francis is doing, compared to a regional average of 68%.

Categories: Chile.

Top Comments

Disclaimer & comment rules
  • pgerman

    It was a protocolary message as it is mandatory to any foreign Head of State who, on an official visit, overflies the Argentine territory.

    The good thing is that the Pope sent the message in English so the whole global community could read it without needing any translation.Sadly, the Argentine Government answered back in Spanish .....

    Jan 16th, 2018 - 11:16 am 0
  • Clyde15

    Vatican protocol message to President Macri when Pope overflew Argentina.

    You have already posted this in above.

    Jan 16th, 2018 - 04:07 pm 0
Read all comments

Commenting for this story is now closed.
If you have a Facebook account, become a fan and comment on our Facebook Page!