Pope Francis, history’s first Latin American pope, was welcomed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Monday (January 15) and it was the beginning of his week-long Latin America visit. It's the first time the 81-year-old has visited Chile since he was elected pope in 2013. The Catholic church's credibility in this part of the world has been shaken by a series of sex abuse scandals.
When recently asked to evaluate Pope Francis on a scale of 0 to 10, Chileans gave him a score of 5.3, the lowest approval rating among the 18 Latin American nations in the survey. Trust in the Roman Catholic Church as an institution fared even worse, polling at just 36% - the lowest in Latin America.
On Tuesday, January 16, Pope Francis asked “for forgiveness” for the "irreparable damage" done to children who were raped and molested by Catholic priests in Chile. The pontiff met with a small group of abuse survivors at a "strictly private" gathering at the Vatican's Apostolic Nunciature embassy in the capital, Santiago, the Vatican said.
Addressing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, lawmakers, judges and other authorities, the pope said he felt "bound to express my pain and shame" that some of Chile's clergy had sexually abused children who were in their care. “I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again,” he added.
The pontiff didn’t mention the case of Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious priest who was found guilty of sexually abusing minors and psychological abuse in Chile in February 2011 after several years of a Catholic canonical investigation. He was sent to a "life of prayer and penitence" and to "lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons." The scandal rocked the Catholic Church and greatly hurt its credibility, and many Chileans are still angry over Francis' decision, in 2015, to appoint a protege of Karadima as bishop of the southern city of Osorno.
Police in riot gear dispersed some 200 demonstrators trying to make their way to a park where the pope said Mass for some 400,000 people after making his remarks about abuse. A group opposed to the pope’s visit posted on Twitter:
“No more abuse, no more cover-ups, no more hypocrisy.” On the other side, many people were excited to see the pontiff and there were tens of thousands people on the streets.
“Sex abuse is Pope Francis’ weakest spot in terms of his credibility,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican expert and theology professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. “It is surprising that the pope and his entourage don’t understand that they need to be more forthcoming on this issue.”
Photo Credits: Wikimedia