Chile: Pope arrives to protests over sex abuse scandal

Allan Goodman
January 18, 2018

A sex abuse victim said Pope Francis ought to use his papal visit to address the issue of the Church, The Associated Press relayed.

"The meeting took place in a strictly private way, and no one else was present: only the pope and the victims", Burke told journalists that evening.

That distrust extends to Francis, who is making his first visit as pope to the country of 17 million people.

Pope Francis has often flagged the danger of nuclear warfare and in November he appeared to harden the Catholic Church's teaching against nuclear weapons, saying countries should not stockpile them even for the goal of deterrence.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Chile's largely indigenous Araucania region, long divided by violent conflict.

"I can not help but express the pain and shame, shame that I feel over the irreparable harm caused to children by church ministers", Francis said at La Moneda presidential palace here in the Chilean capital.

The raging controversy here about clerical sexual abuse - combined with recent firebombings of several churches - have injected a sense of tension and unpredictability into Francis' visit to this traditionally Roman Catholic nation. He told local media that a pamphlet was found at the scene but declined to provide more details.

Pope Francis travelled to the heart of Chile's centuries-old conflict with indigenous peoples on Wednesday, celebrating Mass at a former military base that not only lies on contested Mapuche land but also was a former detention centre used during Chile's brutal dictatorship.

Police say the attacks have involved gas-drenched cloths thrown at churches followed by the spraying of accelerant.

Earlier during his visit to the country, the Pope said he felt "pain and shame" over the sex abuse scandal, asking the victims for forgiveness.

Pope Francis greets inmates at the San Joaquin women's prison in Santiago Chile
AP Pope Francis greets inmates at the San Joaquin women's prison in Santiago Chile

Francis appointed Juan Barros, a reverend who was mentored by Rev Fernando Karadima, with the latter found guilty in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades by the Vatican.

One of the inmates chosen to speak for all, Janeth Zurita Interna, said she wanted to publicly apologize for her crimes and ask for mercy for the children who are growing up in prison with their mothers.

He also asked the Chilean government to go beyond negotiating "elegant" agreements with indigenous people and actually implement them. "We need negotiations. We hope that the pope plants the seeds for it to happen". Karadima has denied the allegations and Bishop Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

Pope Francis has said in the past that dealing with abuse is vital for the Church's credibility, and that "sanctions" must be imposed against perpetrators.

No group has claimed responsibility for the violent acts, and no arrests have been made, but Mapuche activists have torched churches in recent years to promote their cause.

Francis surprised and angered many Chileans in 2015 when he appointed Barros as bishop of the southern city of Osorno.

Graffiti scrawled on one Santiago church read: "Burn the pope".

Police have not named any suspects, but Francis was scheduled to meet Wednesday in the city of Temuco with Mapuche leaders, who have been fighting for greater autonomy and a return of ancestral lands.

Moreover, at least nine churches were firebombed in the days leading up to the pope's visit, and "vandals left fliers at some sites threatening to kill the pope".

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