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Pope asks forgiveness for ‘irreparable harm’ from sex abuse

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Pope Francis begged for forgiveness Tuesday (Jan. 16) for the “irreparable damage” done to children who were raped and molested by priests, opening his visit to Chile by diving head-first into a scandal that has greatly hurt the Catholic Church’s credibility here and cast a cloud over his visit.

Speaking to Chile’s president, lawmakers, judges and other authorities, Francis said he felt “bound to express my pain and shame” that some of Chile’s pastors had sexually abused children in their care. He was interrupted by applause from the dignitaries at La Moneda palace when he pronounced the words.

“I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again,” he said.

History’s first Latin American pope didn’t refer by name to Chile’s most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned in 2011 by the Vatican to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for sexually molesting minors. Nor did Francis refer to the fact that the emeritus archbishop of Santiago, a top papal adviser, has acknowledged he knew of complaints against Karadima but didn’t remove him from ministry.

Karadima had been a politically connected, charismatic and powerful priest who ministered to a wealthy Santiago community and produced dozens of priestly vocations and five bishops. Victims went public with their accusations in 2010, after complaining for years to church authorities that Karadima would kiss and fondle them when they were teenagers.

While the scandal rocked the church, many Chileans are still furious over Francis’ subsequent decision, in 2015, to appoint a Karadima protege as bishop of the southern city of Osorno. Bishop Juan Barros has denied knowing about Karadima’s abuse but many Chileans don’t believe him, and his appointment has badly split the diocese.

“Sex abuse is Pope Francis’ weakest spot in terms of his credibility,” said Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican expert and theology professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. “It is surprising that the pope and his entourage don’t understand that they need to be more forthcoming on this issue.”

The Karadima scandal and a long cover-up has caused a crisis for the church in Chile, with a recent Latinbarometro survey saying the case was responsible for a significant drop in the number of Chileans who call themselves Catholic, as well as a fall in confidence in the church as an institution.

That distrust extends to Francis, who is making his first visit as pope to this country of 17 million people. The Argentine pope is nearly a native son, having studied in Chile during his Jesuit novitiate, and he knows the country well, but Chileans give him the lowest approval rating among the 18 Latin American nations in the survey.

“People are leaving the church because they don’t find a protective space there,” said Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a group of church members in Osorno that has opposed Barros’ appointment as bishop. “The pastors are eating the flock.”

People angry over Barros planned a protest for Tuesday, when Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park.

Other groups also called demonstrations against the pontiff.

Victor Hugo Robles, an activist in Chile’s lesbian and gay community, said the Vatican tries to paint an image of the pope as being close to the people, particularly those with the most needs.

“We are the ones who need help,” said Robles. “Gay people, people living with AIDS. When it comes to those things, the church has an attitude of intolerance, of disgust.”

Felipe Morales, from a group called the Workers’ Socialist Front, said many were unhappy with the pope and the church’s historical influence in Chile. They planned to protest outside while Francis celebrated Mass.

“The role of the church has been nefarious,” said Morales. “Sex abuse cases have been covered up and people are unhappy with many other issues.”

To be sure, many are excited to see the pope. Thousands lined the streets of Santiago to get a glimpse of Francis after he arrived Monday night, though the crowds were notably thin compared to previous visits to other Latin American capitals. O’Higgins Park, though, was teeming with faithful waiting for the pope’s Mass, with some pilgrims camping out overnight.

“It was amazing to see him,” said Luis Salazar, a young boy who came out with his family to see Francis pass by in his popemobile Monday.

The pope will try to inject new energy into the church during his visit, which includes 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.

(Associated Press writers Eva Vergara and Patricia Luna and AP video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.)

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19 Comments

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  • Chile, once staunchly and invincibly Catholic, basically had enough. The church spoke up against the Pinochet abuses, even while simultaneously supporting the Pinochet regime, as they did with many of the others dictatorships in South America. The Mapuche Indians are another force in Chile— when I was there 7 years ago, there were constant demonstrations. The clergy were out of touch, to put it mildly, and the abuse scandals, following the usual duck and coverup the church has been doing since St. Peter Damien, have contributed a major blow,

  • Francis’ primary goal is to protect and preserve the Church’s institutional hierarchy. He combines a lot of happy-talk with minimal accountability.

  • The Pope needs to specifically describe the punishment given to each pedophile pastor, assuring everyone
    that these “sinners” have been removed from the church and will never again cause harm.

  • “Penance and prayer” are not enough. Pedophile priests should be turned over to and prosecuted by civil government. The problem if worldwide and of long standing.

  • I’m not Catholic but I thought Francis was/is the common man’s Pope. Here in North America his biggest critics are some of those who make up the institutional hierarchy is my understanding.

  • It sounds like this was and is a very broken place for the Catholic Church. If Francis is a reform minded Pope he should have plenty of notes when he returns home.

  • Without permanent structural changes in authority, oversight, accountability and vetting of pastors, the problem will persist. Sexual misconduct by the clergy goes back to at least the Canterbury Tales and was a factor in the popularity of the Reformation in German states.

  • Re: “… the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was sanctioned in 2011 by the Vatican to a lifetime of ‘penance and prayer’ for sexually molesting minors.” 

    So, “penance and prayer,” but no jailtime. Right? 

    Re: “Victims went public with their accusations in 2010, after complaining for years to church authorities that Karadima would kiss and fondle them when they were teenagers.” 

    So this was known long ago, but never acted on? Why no jailtime for the hierarchs above Karadima who could have stopped him? 

    Clearly the R.C. Church still doesn’t accept secular jurisdiction. The principle of privilege of clergy is still alive and well in the Vatican. 

  • Actually it goes back longer than that. For example, some of the canons of the regional synod of Elvira, held in the early years of the 4th century, suggest that sexual immorality of a few kinds had been a problem. Because it was dealt with in a fairly large assembly that also dealt with many other matters, it’s safe to assume it must have been a longstanding problem prior to that (although it’s impossible to guess just how long that might have been). 

    And there are other indications it had been a problem, particularly various Church Fathers’ denunciations of paidofthoreó (generally translated as “abuse of boys”) as distinct from “pederasty” (which was common in some pagan communities, but still opposed by most Christians). That they had to coin this additional word, and described it as more of an abomination, indicates it was viewed as a special problem. 

  • Hey,Ben,how are you,my friend! ?—You’ve got a way with words; “Cardinal Fergettaboutit” had me rolling!! Thanks for the laugh, friend! ?

  • Honestly, it’s not as though they never attempted to deal with it. They tried (in their own, classical-world way) to prevent it at Elvira at least, and it certainly was addressed by Church Fathers (who, by virtue of condemning it conceded it happened, and thus certainly weren’t engaged in a cover-up). It’s just that, for every step forward, they ended up taking two back … so the result was that not enough was ever done about it. 

    All of this means, of course, that the Church cannot now logically claim to be surprised it happened. There’s a demonstrated history of it. And it means that most of the Church’s many excuses (e.g. the John Jay Report’s claim it was caused by “the sexual revolution”) are B.S. 

    In short … it means the Church has no one and nothing to blame for “priestly pedophilia” but itself (and of course the abusers themselves). There’s just no way they can avoid accountability for it — no matter how hard they try, or how many excuses they hurl around. 

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