The papal visit in Chile can only be described as interesting. From the first day, Pope Francis sought to put the priest sex scandal behind him and boost the Catholic Church’s profile, as Chileans are starting to lose faith.
However, it was more difficult than it seemed as demonstrations rocked Chile. 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”, in a startling threat against the Pope. For the remaining of his visits, the protests were so wild that they had to be broken up with tear gas, as six more churches were burned down.
The unheard of situation in Chile, though, did not stop there. Even though Pope Francis met with the sex abuse victims at the beginning of his trip and prayed for forgiveness, on Thursday he accused the same victims of slander. He stressed that until he sees definitive proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.” Until Francis’ words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.
It is reminded that Francis appointed in 2015 Barros as a bishop in Southern Chile, despite the fact that he was Karadima’s protégé.
The Pope’s remarks drew instant rebuke from the Chileans and the victims themselves, who highlighted that they were deemed credible enough by the Vatican, so that it passed a sentence of a “lifetime of penance” for Karadima in 2011. Additionally, a Chilean judge also though the victims to be credible and despite evidence found, was forced to drop the case due to the statute of limitations as his crimes were committed in the ‘80s.
On Thursday afternoon, Pope Francis leaves raging Chile in order to visit Peru for four days. Peru, though, is not taking any chances as police has banned demonstrations, which could impact negatively the image of the country.
Francis will meet with Amazonian indigenous groups who are hoping he will call on the state to grant them formal land rights and encourage the government to support the cleanup of rivers and land spoiled by illegal mining and deforestation.