Associated Press via Washington Post
January 15, 2018
By Nicole Winfield and Eva Vergara
Pope Francis’ visit to Chile was always going to be fraught, but it has taken on an unprecedented degree of opposition with the firebombings of Catholic churches ahead of his Monday arrival and protests by Chileans fed up with priest sex abuse and cover-up.
Francis is coming to a country where around 60 percent of Chileans declare themselves to be Roman Catholics, but where the church has lost the influence and moral authority it once enjoyed thanks to sex 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 reverse the trend during his three-day 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 isn’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.
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