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Pope arrives in Chile to bolster battered Church credibility

From Reuters - January 15, 2018

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Pope Francis arrived in Chile on Monday to start a trip aimed atbolstering the credibility of a local Church battered by a sexual abuse crisis.

Tens of thousands of people chanting Viva Papa Francisco lined the streets of his route from the airport, where he was greeted by President Michelle Bachelet, to the Vatican embassy, his official residence for three days before he moves on to Peru.

A youth orchestra played on the tarmac at an otherwise low-key arrival ceremony when the pope arrived from Rome on an unusually cool and cloudy austral summer evening.

Bachelet said on social media shortly after greeting Pope Francis that Chilean society was much changed since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987, during the dictatorship of theAugusto Pinochet.

We are a society more just, more free, and more tolerant, she said, adding, however, that inequality still persisted.

Hundreds of people, many of them children waving Chilean and Vatican flags, greeted Francis outside the Vatican nunciature, or embassy, chanting Pope Francis, friend, Chile is with you.

Despite the festive atmosphere, Francis faces protests from Catholics upset with his 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros to head the small diocese of Osorno, a 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.

That scandal, which has gripped Chile, and growing secularization, has hurt the Church.

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.

Francis may speak to it and other problems when he makes his first address on Tuesday morning to national authorities and the diplomatic corps.

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