SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) — Pope Francis, in his first formal speech in Chile, asked forgiveness from those who were sexually abused by priests.
Addressing government authorities and members of the country’s diplomatic corps Jan. 16, the pope expressed his “pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church.”
“I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask for forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensure that such things do not happen again,” he said.
Preparations for Pope Francis’ visit to Chile Jan. 15-18 were overshadowed by continuing controversy over the pope’s decision in 2015 to give a diocese to a bishop accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse perpetrated by a notorious priest.
The pope’s appointment of Bishop Juan Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno sparked several protests — most notably at the bishop’s installation Mass — due to the bishop’s connection to Father Fernando Karadima, his former mentor. Father Karadima was sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after he was found guilty of sexually abusing boys.
The protests against the pope’s appointment of Bishop Barros gained steam when a video of Pope Francis defending the appointment was published in September 2015 by the Chilean news channel Ahora Noticias. Filmed during a general audience a few months earlier, the video showed the pope telling a group of Chilean pilgrims that Catholics protesting the appointment were “judging a bishop without any proof.”
But Pope Francis made his way to La Moneda, the presidential palace, and was welcomed by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Thousands were gathered in the square outside the palace, chanting “Francisco, amigo, Chile está contigo” (“Francis, friend, Chile is with you”).
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.
Included in the pope’s list were “children who look out on the world with eyes full of amazement and innocence and expect from us concrete answers for a dignified future.”
At that point he told the officials, “I feel bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church.”
The pope’s acknowledgment of the crimes of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy was met with a loud applause from the government authorities present.
Looking at the country’s social and political life, Pope Francis congratulated the nation for its steady growth in democracy since 1990 when the rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet ended.
The recent presidential elections in November, he said, “were a demonstration of the solidity and civic maturity that you have achieved.”
“That was a particularly important moment, for it shaped your destiny as a people founded on freedom and law, one that has faced moments of turmoil, at times painful, yet succeeded in surmounting them. In this way, you have been able to consolidate and confirm the dream of your founding fathers,” the pope said.
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