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'Pain and shame': Francis in Chile: Clergy sexual abuse of minors and its cover-up a central focus during papal trip.

SANTIAGO, CHILE The sexual abuse of minors by clergy was a central focus of Pope Francis' first day of a three-day pastoral visit to Chile.

Recent revelations about clergy abuse and the appointment of a bishop who is accused of covering up for a notorious priest abuser has this traditionally Catholic country reeling.

In his first speech of the visit, addressing country's political leaders, Francis expressed "pain and shame" over the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. He told the politicians Jan. 16 that it is right for the church to ask forgiveness.

He also said the church would commit itself "to ensuring that such things do not happen again."

Later that day, he addressed Chilean clergy, telling them to have the fortitude to ask forgiveness from those who were abused by priests, saying abuse survivors had their trust in the church betrayed and that clerics should seek to "call reality by its name."

Between those two speeches, Francis met in a "strictly private" manner with "a small group" of survivors of clergy sexual abuse, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke announced at a press conference late in the evening of Jan. 16.

According to Burke, only the pope and the victims were present "so they could recount their suffering."

Francis "listened to them and prayed and cried with them," Burke said. The spokesman did not provide other details.

That morning, Francis had told Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, "I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church." Speaking outside the imposing facade of La Moneda palace, he said, "It is right to ask for forgiveness and to make every effort to support the victims."

Francis himself faces criticism in Chile over his 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, who is accused of covering up for notorious abuser Fr. Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and '90s.

Local Catholics held daily protests against Francis over the Barros appointment, and anger at the pope and the church has to an atmosphere in Santiago not before experienced during Francis' other 21 visits abroad.

Several churches across the country were fire bombed, with one parish in Santiago targeted overnight Jan. 15, shortly after the pope's arrival.

Another parish in the city was painted that night with graffiti. Big black letters at its entry declared: "Accomplice!" and "BurnPope!"

Those opposed to Francis' visit have also been active on social media, using the Twitter hashtag #noalpapaenchile and the slogan "No more abuse, no more cover-up, no more hypocrisy."

One abuse survivor said Francis' words about clergy abuse Jan. 16 were not enough.

"The pope has all the necessary power and responsibility to end clerical abuse today, if he wanted," said Jose Andres Murillo, who was abused by Karadima and is now executive director of the Chilean foundation Para la Confianza, which helps survivors of sexual abuse.

The pope "is responsible for removing, if necessary, every bishop... who has covered up a case of abuse," said Murillo. "If he does not do that, his pain and shame is not credible."

Other Chileans said they hoped Francis' expression of pain was only the beginning of his efforts in dealing with clergy abuse in the country. One man at O'Higgins Park, where the pope celebrated an outdoor Mass later Jan. 16, called Francis' words a positive step forward but said it was only one step.

One woman at the park who traveled about 70 miles from the coast town of Valparaiso to see Francis said she hoped Chileans would understand that just because he has spoken about the issue that not everything is healed.

The pope did not mention Barros or Karadima by name in his speech at the presidential palace, which primarily focused on encouraging political leaders to work for the common good instead of for partisan or commercial interests.

Barros had been serving as the head of Chile's military diocese until Francis moved him to Osorno in 2015.

The Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of prayer and penance in 2011, although the priest has denied the numerous allegations against him.

Though Barros was not implicated in Karadima's canonical trial, victims say the prelate destroyed incriminating correspondence from the priest. Other victims claim the future bishop was even a witness to some of the sexual abuse.

New revelations about Francis' awareness of claims that Barros protected Karadima came Jan. 12, with the leak of a previously unknown letter Francis had written to the Chilean bishops' conference in 2015, acknowledging that Barros was controversial, before making the appointment to Osorno.

Francis was to leave for Peru Jan. 18, the day after this issue of NCR went to press.

Speaking to several hundred clergy in Santiago's Cathedral of the Assumption, Francis urged the priests to seek forgiveness from abuse survivors, but he also acknowledged the discomfort experienced by priests not caught up in the scandal, clergy who now operate in an atmosphere of suspicion.

"I know the pain resulting from cases of abuse and I am attentive to what you are doing to respond to this great and painful evil," Francis said. One kind of pain, he said, was that "of the harm and suffering of the victims and their families, who saw the trust they had placed in the church's ministers betrayed."

Another kind of pain, he said, was that of priests, who "after working so hard, have seen the harm that has led to suspicion and questioning."

"I know that at times you have been insulted in the metro or walking on the street, and that by going around in clerical attire in many places you pay a heavy price," Francis told the clergy.

Anne Barrett Doyle of the watchdog group called Francis' meeting with clergy a "missed opportunity, another indication that Pope Francis still doesn't get it."

"These remarks reveal the pope's own lack of clear-sightedness. The 'reality' that he should call by its name is the reality of collusion, apathy and cowardice among priests," she said. "He could have urged priests to face their own complicity in the secrecy that shrouds clergy sex abuse."

Crowds along Francis' route through Santiago toward the presidential palace Jan. 16 were thin, with police lining streets that for long stretches were nearly empty Unlike previous visits in other countries, the convoy surrounding the pope's car was heavy, with at least seven unmarked police vehicles traveling with him.

In the rest of his speech at the palace, Francis referred to Chile's recent economic boom--it is now considered by several indices as the most competitive economy across Latin America. He said Chileans have a "great and exciting challenge" to make their nation "a true place of encounter for all."

He also referenced the "growth of democracy" in Chile following the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Chile's future, he said, "depends in large part on the ability of its people and leaders to listen."

"The ability to listen proves most important in this nation, whose ethnic, cultural and historical diversity must be preserved from all partisan spirit or attempts at domination, and inspire instead our innate ability to replace narrow ideologies with a healthy concern for the common good," he said.

Bachelet, a member of the country's Socialist Party, is a lame-duck president set to be replaced in March by the more right-wing Sebastian Pinera. She is the daughter of Air Force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, who was tortured to death following the 1973 military coup that brought Pinochet to power.

Hundreds of thousands of people packed into the 190-acre O'Higgins Park for the outdoor Mass later Jan. 16, waving flags and yellow hats as Francis arrived in the popemobile.

"How much the heart of the Chilean people knows about rebuilding and starting anew!" he said. "How much you know about getting up again after so many falls! This is the heart to which Jesus speaks; that is the heart for which the Beatitudes are meant!"

The pope called on Chileans to "forge a future of peace, to weave a fabric that will not unravel."


[Joshua J. McElwee (jmcelwee@ncronltne. org) is NCR Vatican correspondent. Soli Salgado ( is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report.]

-CNS/Paul Haring

Caption: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet speaks as Pope Francis meets with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Jan. 16.

Caption: People carry crosses as they wait for Pope Francis' arrival at O'Higgins Park in Santiago, Chile, Jan. 16.

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Title Annotation:WORLD; Pope Francis I
Author:McElwee, Joshua J.; Salgado, Soli
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:3CHIL
Date:Jan 26, 2018
Previous Article:PEOPLE.
Next Article:German bishop urges church debate on same-sex unions.

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