Pope Faced Unusual Criticism For Weak Response to Sexual Abuse

When Pope Francis visits a country he is usually greeted by huge crowds praising his name. This was not the case when he arrived in Santiago, Chile. He was greeted by significantly smaller crowds and the crowd was mixed by positive statements and jeers.

Why did this occur?

While Pope Francis has been known for his promotion of human rights, social justice, and recently calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons there is a particular issue that resonantes with the Chilean population. Sexual abuse by priests. In particular, Rev. Fernando Karadima, a famous priest who was found to have abused dozens of children over decades. This was further exacerbated by the Pope’s decision to appoint a bishop in Chile who had close ties to Karadima. Chileans feel that the Vatican and the Pope have been not been swift or complete in justice for victims. Karadima has not served any jail time since found guilty by both the Chilean government and the Vatican, but was sentenced by the Vatican to a lifetime of “penance and prayer.”

This contrasts with the historical support that Chileans have given to the Catholic Church. The church was at the forefront of resistance against the military regime of General Pinochet. In fact, Pope Francis is an advocate of Liberation Theory, which was the theological justification for social activism for resisting authoritarian regimes in Central and South America. Liberation Theory argues that Jesus requires the Catholic Church to fight against oppression, based on his teaching and own fight for social justice. This popular support allowed the Vatican to influence politics in the country, delaying laws on abortion and divorce.

Chile has the lowest support for the Roman Catholic Church in South America. This could be the reason why there was a string of firebombings of churches and death threats to the Pope before his visit. While Pope Francis spoke out for indigenous rights while in Chile, the violence may be linked to extremist elements of the Mapuches people, an indigenous group that has been negatively affected by governmental policies and the destruction of the rainforest.

This is the first visit that a pope has made to Chile since 1987. He will follow the trip to Chile with a 3 day trip to Peru. He did not mention the sexual abuse scandal specifically but did speak of respect and love for others.

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