“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. Thousands were gathered in the square outside the palace, chanting “Francisco, amigo, Chile esta contigo” (“Francis, friend, Chile is with you”).
But the pope did not receive a universal welcome, with scuffles breaking out between riot police and demonstrators in the vicinity of O’Higgins Park. In 2011, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who served in the southern city of Osorno, was found guilty and dismissed for abusing dozens of minors over a decades-long period beginning in the 1980s.
Although Pope Francis has made his “zero tolerance” policy over sexual abuse clear, the pontiff’s appointment of Juan Barros furthered Chilean resentment.
Sex abuse cases have hurt the church’s reputation in Peru, too.
Fifty-nine percent of Chilean citizens described themselves as Roman Catholic in a recent survey conducted by the consultancy group Latinobarómetro.
In his speech to the country’s political leaders, Pope Francis emphasized the need for officials to listen to the people and to value their experiences, cultures, sufferings and hopes. Victims have sought a meeting with him though none has yet been arranged.
On Tuesday, the Pope will visit the Women’s Penitentiary Center on the outskirts of Santiago, and later he will meet with priests, religious people and seminarians at the Metropolitan Cathedral.
“It’s a great honor to be here”, said Jacqueline Olguien, 48, part of a group of 15 from a parish in Santiago. “I want to tell you that you’re not alone, that the Pope is with you”. Numerous women wept, and the pope seemed choked up when the inmates sang a song they had composed for him.
Worshipers waved flags of their home countries.
These tensions are also evident on social media, where people in both countries have expressed both excitement and discontent with Francis’ visit.
“We can learn from them that there is no true development in a population that turns its back on the earth and everyone and everything around it”, he said. “We are all very proud of him”.
While en route to South America for his six-day visit, the Pope’s staff handed out a photograph taken in the aftermath of the USA nuclear strike on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945, in which a young boy carries his dead brother on his shoulders. He is expected to preach on indigenous rights, environmental destruction in the Amazon and the plight of immigrants.
Francis’s reception in Santiago has been much more low-key than he is used to.
Francis was welcomed at Santiago’s worldwide airport by Bachelet.
The pope will be in Chile until Thursday, when he travels to Peru.
He quoted the words of St. Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit who died in 1952 and was canonized in 2005, who said: “A nation, more than its borders, more than its land, its mountain ranges, its seas, more than its language or its traditions, is a mission to be fulfilled”.