Activists in Chile say pope must apologize for priest abuse
By EVA VERGARA and NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Hours before Pope Francis was set to arrive in Chile Monday, activists on issues related to sex abuse by priests called for sanctions against both abusers and anyone who helped cover up their actions.
About 200 people attended the first of several activities aimed at making the sex abuse scandal a central topic of Francis’ first visit to the Andean nation since becoming pope in 2013.
Sex abuse in Chile is an open wound, in part because of Francis’ decision to appoint a bishop with close ties to the country’s most notorious abuser.
“It’s not just time for the pope to ask for forgiveness or the abuses but also to take action,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
Cruz added that if it wasn’t possible to jail bad bishops, “at the very least they can be removed from their positions.”
Francis’ visit to Chile is expected to be fraught with a high level of opposition. Firebombings of Catholic churches in recent days have added to the tensions, as have planned protests of sex abuse and cover-ups.
Francis is coming to a country in which the majority of people continue to declare themselves Roman Catholics, but where the church has lost the influence and moral authority it once enjoyed thanks to the scandals, secularization and an out-of-touch clerical caste.
“I used to be a strong believer and churchgoer,” said Blanca Carvucho, a 57-year-old secretary in Santiago. “All the contradictions have pushed me away.”
The pope will try to inject new energy into the church during his Monday-Thursday visit, which gets underway in earnest Tuesday with a series of protocol visits for church and state, and will be followed by a three-day trip to neighboring Peru.
In Chile, he plans sessions with migrants, members of Chile’s Mapuche indigenous group and victims of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. It remains to be seen if he will meet with sex abuse survivors. A meeting wasn’t on the agenda, but such encounters never are.
Chile’s church earned wide respect during the regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet because it spoke out against the military’s human rights abuses, but it began a downward spiral in 2010 when victims of a charismatic, politically connected priest came forward with allegations that he had kissed and fondled them.
Local church leaders had ignored the complaints against the Rev. Fernando Karadima for years, but they were forced to open an official investigation after the victims went public and Chilean prosecutors started investigating. The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes, but the church leadership hasn’t won back Chileans’ trust for having covered up Karadima’s crimes for so long.
“The Karadima case created a ferocious wound,” said Chile’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mariano Fernandez Amunategui. He and others inside the Vatican speak openly of a Chilean church “in crisis” as a result, a remarkable admission of the scandal’s toll on a church that wielded such political clout that it helped stave off laws legalizing divorce and abortion until recently.
Chileans’ disenchantment has even affected their views of the pope himself. A recent survey by Latinobarometro, a respected regional polling firm, found that Chile had a lower esteem for history’s first Latin American pope than 18 other Central and South American countries. Even among Chilean Catholics, only 42 percent approve of the job Francis is doing, compared to a regional average of 68 percent.
“The serious error of the Catholic Church in the Karadima case wasn’t that the case existed, which the church couldn’t avoid because it did happen, but rather the way in which the church reacted,” said Latinobarometro’s Marta Lagos.
Francis, who has insisted he has “zero tolerance” for abuse, in 2015 named one of Karadima’s proteges as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Karadima’s victims say Bishop Juan Barros knew about the abuse but did nothing, a charge Barros denies.
Last week, The Associated Press reported that Francis had told Chile’s bishops that the Vatican was so concerned about the Karadima fallout that it had planned to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and take a year sabbatical. But the plan fell through, and Francis went through with the appointment of Barros to Osorno, where the controversy has badly divided the diocese.
Meanwhile, vandals firebombed a handful of Santiago churches and warned that Francis would be next. Never before has such violence and opposition greeted Francis ahead of a foreign visit.
The last time any serious opposition greeted a pope came during uneventful protests over the costs for Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 trip to Britain.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield reported this story from Rome and AP writer Eva Vergara reported in Santiago. AP writer Peter Prengaman contributed from Santiago.