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News > Latin America

Pope Meeting Sex Abuse Victims in Chile, Peru 'Not Impossible'

  • Locals walk past a banner of Pope Francis ahead of the papal visit, in Temuco, Chile Jan. 10, 2018.

    Locals walk past a banner of Pope Francis ahead of the papal visit, in Temuco, Chile Jan. 10, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 January 2018

Greg Burke, the Vatican's spokesperson, said Pope Francis has no planned meetings with Catholic Church's victims of sexual abuse during his visit to Chile and Peru.

Pope Francis will visit Chile and Peru between Jan. 15 and 21, offering public masses and meeting with different kinds of people and organizations, including victims of Pinochet's dictatorship, however, meetings with the Catholic Church's victims of sexual abuse is not planned, “but that doesn't mean it's impossible,” according to comments made Thursday by Vatican's spokesperson Greg Burke.


Mapuche Communities in Chile, Peru Brace for Pope's Visit

Burke said the sexual abuse cases by the Catholic Church are “clearly an important issue.” in both countries. An organization called Bishop Accountability recently published a database with the names, pictures and additional information of 80 priests, clerics and a nun accused of sexual abuse charges against minors in Chile.

The organization says that current conditions in Chile regarding sexual abuse cases by the Catholic Church don't allow a complete list of accused clerics. “The lack of external pressure allows Catholic church leaders in Chile to act with impunity. They openly reinstate, for instance, priests who have faced multiple allegations of abuse” says the database description.

They point that a more complete number of accused clerics would be known if “Chile's church leaders were required to report to law enforcement, if its legal system allowed victims more time to bring criminal and civil charges, or if dioceses and religious orders were investigated by prosecutors or state commissions.”

According to the organization, Australia has about half as many catholics as Chile, while both countries have a similar number of active priests and brothers, around 5,000. Yet policies in Australia have made it possible to publicly dennounce more than 1,100 male clergy.

The pope will meet two victims of Pinochet's Chilean Dictatorship Thursday, Jan. 18, in Iquique, north Chile. He will also visit Santiago and Temuco. He is expected to address issues such as poverty and inequality, as well as tensions between state and Indigenous groups, but important issues such as sexual abuse remain outside his program for now.

“I hope the pope makes a gesture with those who dennounced [sexual abuses], because they are real heroes,” the jesuit priest Felipe Berrios and director of the Jesuit Care Chilean Center told the news agency EFE.

In 2011, the Vatican found priest Fernando Karadima, head of the El Bosque parish in Santiago, guilty of multiple cases of sexual abuse, condemning him to a confined life in prayer. The Chilean government justice system also declared him guilty and absolved him from his responsibilities.

James Hamilton, one of Karadima's victims, published an open letter in the local newspaper The Clinic in which he asks Pope Francis: “Why would you not meet us? Don't you believe us? Or, although you believe us, clery's kinship prevails?”

In 2010 three of Karadima's victims formed the Foundation for Trust organization to fight sexual abuse cases in confidence situations.

Why the Pope's Visit to Chile Will Be Met With Protests

One of Peru's most controversial cases is that of the founder of the Catholic sect Sodalitium of Christian Life, Luis Fernando Figari, who is currently under investigation for sexual abuse. In May 2016 five former members of Sodalitium of Christian Life filed a lawsuit against him and six others, accusing them of kidnapping, assault and criminal conspirancy. They could face up to 30 years in prison.

The case was recently reopened after a public prosecutor had already dropped the case in January 2017. He was already permanently banned from the group and condemned by the Vatican.

A group of different organizations, activists and lawyers are expected to simultaneously publish an open letter Friday in Santiago and Lima, asking the Pope to address the sexual abuse issues in these countries.

Even though Pope Francis said he would have zero tolerance for such cases within the church, he already failed to meet with victims of the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel during his visit to Mexico.

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