Church credibility in focus as Pope heads for Latin America

From Reuters - January 14, 2018

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis starts a trip to Chile and Peru on Monday, attempting to inject new confidence in the staunchly Catholic countries where the Churchs credibility has been severely damaged by sexual abuse scandals.

On his visit to Peru, the second leg of the Jan. 15-22 tour, Francis will also find a destabilizing political corruption crisis has reopened wounds from one of the countrys darkest periods of human rights abuses.

In Chile, where the Argentine pope arrives on Monday night, Catholics have planned daily protests against his 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to head the small diocese of Osorno, a small city south of the Chilean capital.

Barros has been accused of protecting his former mentor, Father Fernando Karadima, whom a Vatican investigation in 2011 found guilty of abusing teenage boys over many years. Karadima has denied the allegations and Barros said he was unaware of any wrongdoing.

The situation for the Church was complicated last week by the leak in Chile of a 2015 letter from the pope to local bishops showing that the Vatican had planned to ask Barros to take a one-year leave at the end of his previous post in 2014. That plan went awry and Barros was appointed to Osorno.

The Church in Chile, which during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet enjoyed great prestige for its courageous defence of justice and human rights, has today lost much of its credibility with public opinion, wrote papal biographer Andrea Tornielli.

A poll by Santiago-based think tank Latinobarometro this month showed that the number of Chileans calling themselves Catholics fell to 45 percent last year, from 74 percent in 1995.

The pope will meet victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Church had maximum respect for those planning to protest against sexual abuse and did not exclude the possibility that the pope would meet victims privately, as he has on past trips.


There have been a series of attacks on Catholic churches in the capital ahead of the popes visit, including one with a home-made bomb where unidentified vandals left a pamphlet reading Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe.

No one has been injured and no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.


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