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Home Church Pope in Chile expresses "pain and shame" for clerical sex abuse

Pope in Chile expresses “pain and shame” for clerical sex abuse

In his first public speech in the Latin American country of Chile, Pope Francis expressed “pain and shame” for clerical sexual abuse. Pope Francis himself had appointed a bishop in Chile who had allegedly covered up for a priest who had abused minors for decades.

In his opening speech on his apostolic visit to Chile, Pope Francis apologised for the sexual abuse of minors by priests. The credibility of the Catholic Church has been badly damaged by ongoing revelations of abuse by clergy.

The last (and only) papal visit to Chile was made by Pope John Paul II in 1987. During that visit John Paul II critiqued the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Some saw the visit as Vatican support for Pinochet.

Addressing political authorities, civil society and members of the diplomatic corps at La Moneda Palace, Chile’s government house, Francis said “I feel bound to express my pain and shame, shame I feel for the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the Church. I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and to make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again.”

The sex abuse crisis in Chile was focussed on Fr Fernando Karadima. He was found guilty of abusing minors for decades. The Vatican found him guilty in 2011 and sent him to live a solitary life of penance and prayer.

The scandal caused a great uproar in the Chilean Church. Many faithful left the Church when the scandal became public.

Four years after Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican Pope Francis transferred bishop Juan Barros to the city of Osorno. He was the military chaplain but also, with two other bishops, a close collaborator of Karadima. Victims claimed that he knew about Karadima’s crimes and covered them up. Barros has denied the allegations. To make matters worse some faithful in Osorno protested the move and the Vatican defended it saying that his candidacy had been carefully considered and that there were no reasons to reverse the appointment.

In the speech, the pope also encouraged Chileans. He said that they face a “great and exciting challenge: to continue working to make this democracy”. He went on to say that Chile should be a place “where everyone, without exception, feels called to join in building a house, a family and a nation.”

Quoting Jesuit saint, Alberto Hurtado, Francis said that Chile must be “A nation, more than its borders, more than its land, its mountain ranges, its seas, more than its language or its traditions, [it] is a mission to be fulfilled. It is a future. And that future depends in large part on the ability of its people and leaders to listen.”

In order to do this the pope said that this “calls for boldly adopting a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm that allows powerful economic interests to prevail over natural ecosystems and, as a result, the common good of our peoples”.

He went on to say that Chile “possesses a deep-rooted wisdom capable of helping to transcend a merely consumerist view of life and to adopt a sage attitude to the future”.

Francis also mentioned a number of his other concerns including the need to “listen to the migrants who knock on the doors of this country in search of a better life, but also with the strength and the hope of helping to build a better future for all”. He urged that young people are listened to – “their desire for greater opportunities, especially in education, so that they can take active part in building the Chile they dream of, while at the same time shielding them from the scourge of drugs that rob the best part of their lives.” He also mentioned listening to the elderly “with their much-needed wisdom and their particular needs”.

His remarks and apology for clerical sexual abuse were made in the context of him saying that children should be listened to because they “look out on the world with eyes full of amazement and innocence, and expect from us concrete answers for a dignified future”.

Speaking about the environment, a topic close to Francis’ heart, he said “give preferential attention to our common home: to foster a culture that can care for the earth, and thus is not content with merely responding to grave ecological and environmental problems as they arise”.

This is Francis’ sixth visit to Latin America. He will visit Peru after Chile, returning to Rome on 21 January. Although he has travelled to Latin America frequently during his pontificate, Francis has never visited his homeland, Argentina. He had to fly over Argentina to get to Chile – the second time he has flown over his own country. It is unusual for a pope not to visit his home country. Many Argentinians have been left wondering why he has not returned home and, according to papal spokesperson, Greg Burke, has no plans to visit Argentina any time soon.

The spokesman for the Argentine bishop’s conference, Fr Jorge Oesterheld, recently made remarks about the Chilean visit on a local radio station saying that it was “painful that he’s flying over us and landing somewhere else”. He said that it was “hard for us Argentinians to digest” but they trust that as soon as he can he will visit his homeland. SA.

Image Credit: Lucia Ballester/CNA

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Russell Pollitt SJ
Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and Editor-in-Chief of spotlight.africa. He studied the social sciences, theology and communications. He worked as pastor of the Jesuit’s downtown parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 7 years before moving to the Jesuit Institute. He is interested in the relationship between faith and society and the contribution that faith can make to public policy. He regularly comments on politics in South Africa and issues in the Catholic Church. He conducts workshops in South Africa on social media and the human person.

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