Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 – 2:41 PM
(AFP) Pope Francis pleaded for forgiveness Tuesday for child sexual abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in Chile, as riot police broke up a protest near the first public mass of his South American visit.
“I cannot begin to express the pain and shame that I feel over the irreparable harm caused to children by some ministers of the church,” the 81-year-old pontiff said.
“I would like to join with my brothers in the episcopate, because if it is right to ask for forgiveness and to support the victims with strength, we must at the same time commit ourselves to make sure that this does not happen again,” he said.
Francis made his comments during a visit to President Michelle Bachelet’s official Moneda Palace residence, drawing applause from pilgrims watching on giant screens in a Santiago park where he later celebrated an open-air mass for some 400,000 people.
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.
Police used armored vehicles to fire water cannons at the demonstrators and arrested several people, bundling them into vans.
Many of the demonstrators chanted “pedophile accomplices” as they approached the park.
A man dressed as the pope and two other people dressed as nuns unfurled a banner from the balcony of a nearby building that read: “Francis, accomplice of pedophile crimes.”
Francis’ visit — his first to Chile as pope — has been overshadowed by a report outlining the depth of sexual abuse in the local church, and his appointment of a bishop who many here believe covered up the country’s most prominent sex abuse scandal.
The US-based NGO Bishop Accountability said ahead of the visit that almost 80 Roman Catholic clergy members had been accused of sexually abusing children in Chile since 2000.
For victims, the pope’s request for forgiveness did not go far enough.
“We need concrete actions that the pope has not taken with the Chilean church,” said Juan Carlos Claret, spokesman for a lay association in the southern city of Osorno.
Claret’s group is demanding Francis remove Osorno bishop Juan Barros, whom he appointed in 2015, despite Barros’ ties to a disgraced pedophile priest Fernando Karadima.
- A heavy price -
The pope later told representatives of Chile’s clergy at a packed Santiago cathedral that he was “attentive to what you are doing to respond to this great and painful evil.”
It was painful for the victims and their families, he told them, but painful also for them.
“I know that at times you have been insulted in the metro or walking in the street, and that by going around in clerical attire in many places you pay a heavy price.”
In his homily at the mass, where the congregation included Mapuche women in traditional dress, Francis called for the rights and culture of indigenous people to be respected, so they could be treated as “a worthy child of this country.”
Earlier, he said in his speech to officials that indigenous peoples “can make a great contribution” to the environmental protection of the planet.
“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.
However, there was no specific mention of the Mapuche, with whom the pope is scheduled to meet Wednesday during a visit to Temuco, over 600 kilometers (370 miles) south of the capital Santiago.
Three Catholic churches were vandalized on Tuesday, including one in the Araucania region, where most of the Mapuche people live.
In a first for Francis, he visited a women’s prison, telling inmates at Santiago’s San Joaquin Female Penitentiary that “losing our freedom does not did not mean losing our dreams and hopes.”
About 100 inmates welcomed him with songs and excited applause, some of them with their small children.
“We need to reject all those petty cliches that tell us we can’t change, that it’s not worth trying. That nothing will make a difference. No dear Sisters! Some things do make a difference,” Francis said.
A jail sentence must offer opportunities for personal growth, he said.
“Public order must not be reduced to stronger security measures, but should be concerned primarily with preventive measures, such as work, education, and greater community involvement.”
© Agence France-Presse