On Monday, Pope Francis visited Chile, where he will remain until the 21st, to find a weakened Catholic church, rocked to its very foundations by the sex abuse scandals of a priest. The Chileans are losing faith not only because they consider the Catholic Church to be out-of-touch, but also due to the increasing power of secularism and other evangelical faiths.
In 2011, the Vatican found Rev. Fernando Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors. There were allegations against him all the way back to the ‘80s, but no concrete evidence came to surface until victims went public in 2010. However, the statute of limitations had passed and he could not be tried for his crimes. As such the only punishment delivered by the Vatican was for him to spend the rest of his life in a convent, a decision which angered the Chileans.
To make matters worse, Pope Francis in 2015 appointed Rev. Juan Barros as a bishop in Southern Chile, well aware that he was Karadima’s protégé, although Barros fervently denied knowing what Karadima was doing.
In a country where bishops used to play a paramount role for the wellbeing of society, as during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973-1990 they were actively advocating in favor of human rights, the scandals have pushed bishops to obscurity, as many Chileans believe that the Catholic hierarchy is more aligned with business interests than the poor.
So, when Pope Francis arrived in the Chilean capital of Santiago, he met with victims of sex abuse by priests and earlier prayed for forgiveness for the crimes committed against minors by priests. Furthermore, Pope Francis urged priests and nuns to find the strength to ask for forgiveness for abuse and the “clear-sightedness to call reality by its name”, highlighting that the Church was also suffering collectively for the crimes of the few. He denounced the “weeds of evil” that had sprung as a direct result of the scandal and expressed regret that the victims and the families saw the trust they placed in the Church betrayed.
It is worth noting that Pope Francis’ visit was not well received by all. On the eve of his arrival five churches were attacked with firebombs, and with a leaflet they threatened the Pope that “the next bombs will be in your cassock”. But the unrest was not contained in Santiago.
Pope Francis will meet with the indigenous Mapuche people in southern Araucania, where on Wednesday they will celebrate Mass. However, radical groups in the region have been staging violent protests, occupying and burning farms, churches and lumber trucks to demand the return of their land.
In his opening remarks in Santiago on Tuesday, Francis urged Chileans to listen to indigenous peoples who are “often forgotten, whose rights and culture need to be protected lest that part of this nation’s identity and richness be lost.”