Pope Francis is set to meet with victims of Chile's oppressive military dictatorship on his upcoming visit to the country. As protests over the clerical child abuse scandal continue to flare in the Chilean Catholic Church, the Vatican said the Pope hasn't ruled out meeting with clerical sex abuse survivors too.
The pontiff will travel to Chile and Peru from January 15-21, in his sixth pontifical trip to his home continent of South America, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said, according to Associated Press.
On January 18 Pope Francis will meet two victims of the 1973-1990 Pinochet regime in Iquique, northern Chile. Pinochet's authoritarian government was characterised by the suppression of political opposition and the severe persecution, including torture and murder, of thousands of dissidents. No details of the meeting are known except that the Pope will give a letter to the victims.
Burke was asked whether the Pope would also meet with clerical abuse victims, given the notoriety of the sex abuse scandal in the Chilean Catholic Church. This week the online database www.BishopAccountability.org reported 78 clerical figures in the Chilean Church had been accused or convicted of sexually abusing children since the year 2000. The website stressed that its disclosure comprised 'a small fraction of the total scope of the problem', criticising the 'lack of external pressure [that] allows Catholic church leaders in Chile to act with impunity'.
Burke said a meeting with victims wasn't planned, 'but that doesn't mean it's impossible'. He said the issue and those affected was 'clearly an important theme' in the country.
Yesterday the Associated Press uncovered a confidential 2015 letter from Pope Francis that revealed Vatican concerns about Chilean bishops connected to Chile's infamous paedophile priest the Rev Fernando Karadima. It refers to the significant criticism the Pope received for the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros, a protégé of Karadima, to lead the diocese of Osorno. The Pope's ambassador, Monsignor Ivo Scapolo, had encouraged Barros to take a year sabbatical before assuming new pastoral responsibilities, in light of the abuse scandal surrounding Karadima.
That Pope Francis went ahead with appointing Barros has been criticised by some as contradicting his famous commitment to 'zero tolerance' for clerical abusers. Barros told AP: 'I never knew anything about, nor ever imagined the serious abuses which that priest committed against the victims.
'I have never approved of nor participated in such serious dishonest acts and I have never been convicted by any tribunal of such things.'
Active protests have been planned ahead of the papal visit in light of the handling of the abuse crisis. 'We believe the victims of sexual abuse have been marginalized (by the Church),' Juan Carlos Claret, a spokesman for Osorno parishioners, told Reuters. 'It's a reality that we in Osorno have been living with for almost four years and we plan to keep the issue alive.'
The aim of the pontiff's trip is to advocate for indigenous peoples in the region, and promote the protection of the Amazon ecosystem, aligning with the environmental concerns stressed throughout his pontificate.