Pope Francis, in his first formal speech in Chile, asked forgiveness from those who were sexually abused by priests.
Addressing government authorities and members of the country’s diplomatic corps on 16th January, the pope expressed his “pain and shame at 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 make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensure that such things do not happen again,” he said.
Preparations for Pope Francis’ visit to Chile from 15th to 18th January were overshadowed by continuing controversy over the pope’s decision in 2015 to give a diocese to a bishop accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse perpetrated by a notorious priest.
The pope’s appointment of Bishop Juan Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno sparked several protests – most notably at the bishop’s installation Mass – due to the bishop’s connection to Fr Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Fr Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
The protests against the pope’s appointment of Bishop Barros gained steam when a video of Pope Francis defending the appointment was published in September 2015 by the Chilean news channel, Ahora Noticias. Filmed during a general audience a few months earlier, the video showed the pope telling a group of Chilean pilgrims that Catholics protesting the appointment were “judging a bishop without any proof.”
“Think with your head; don’t let yourself be led by all the lefties who are the ones that started all of this,” the pope said. “Yes, Osorno is suffering but for being foolish because it doesn’t open its heart to what God says and allows itself to be led by all this silliness that all those people say.”
Survivors of abuse and their supporters planned a conference and protests around the pope’s arrival.
But Pope Francis made his way to La Moneda, the presidential palace, and was welcomed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Thousands were gathered in the square outside the palace, chanting “Francisco, amigo, Chile esta contigo” (“Francis, friend, Chile is with you”).
Picture: Pope Francis walks with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet after arriving for a meeting with government authorities, members of civil society and the diplomatic corps on 16th January at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago. (CNS photo/Paul Haring).