On Thursday January 18th, Pope Francis arrived in internally conflicted Peru. The country has been disrupted by violent protests since the Christmas Eve pardoning of former President Alberto Fujimori from his 25-year corruption sentence on medical grounds. Current President Pablo Kuczynski had hoped, according to the BBC, that the Pope would be a “messenger of peace and hope.” However, a statement Pope Francis made on the same day in Iquique, Chile will arguably undermine his peace keeping efforts.
The controversial statement saw the pontiff accuse the infamous Reverend Fernando Karadima’s sex-abuse victims of slander against Bishop Juan Barros Madrid. This has caused indignation by the Chilean people and the wider Catholic community. Barros is accused of being actively complicit in covering up Reverend Karadima’s pedophilia, which despite occurring since the 1980s and first being reported, according to The Guardian, to church authorities in 2002, it was not investigated and Karadima was not arrested until it went public in 2010. The Pope, according to The New York Times defended Barros on Thursday stating, “But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all slander. Is that clear?”The Guardian noted that the Pope referred to all accusations against Barros as “all calumny,” despite the fact that both the Vatican and a Chilean judge found the statements of the victim credible previously. Also according to The Guardian, the former sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer,” while the latter believed “too much time had passed, but proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking,” therefore, opening the Pope up to questions of his own credibility. This is deeply disheartening because, as the first Latin American pope, who has previously been vocal with regards to other international human rights abuses such as that currently affecting the Rohingya people, his week long regional tour could have promoted much needed peace in the region. Instead, his statement of slander has undermined his efforts in both Chile and Peru, and arguably the wider world.
Prior to the Pope’s arrival in Chile on Tuesday, violence broke out with four Catholic churches in Santiago being firebombed by homemade devices. The BBC reported that one of these attempts was unsuccessful, but a messaged inscribed on a nearby wall read: “The poor are dying.” These acts of violence were in protest of corruption, poverty, indigenous representation and cardinal sexual abuse. The latter, was addressed as a priority in the Papal visit. According to The New York Times on Tuesday, January 16th, the Pope expressed “pain and shame” over the “irreparable damage” done to sexual-abuse victims, asserting that he will take the necessary steps to ensure that it will never happen again. However, in an immediate display of hypocrisy, the Pope celebrated mass with Barros after his speech. This drew much criticism, reminding the Catholic people that in 2015, Pope Francis promoted Barros from a father to the Bishop of Osorno in Southern Chile. Both the action and the Iquique speech are disparaging for a community who have asked, under the leadership of the organization Ending Clerical Abuse, for transparency and action. They want to see the Catholic church address the nearly 80 Chilean clergymen accused of abuse, identified by the Bishop Accountability website, as quoted in The New York Times. Therefore, despite the purpose of his visit being to rebuild the tenuous relationship between the Church and Chilean people that relationship, it has compounded the situation. Arguably we can expect the continued reduction of Chilean Catholics. A number which has already dropped from 75% in 1995 to 45% in 2017.
In response, the Catholic Church has condemned the Pope’s speech. Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston and Pope Francis’ top adviser on clerical sex abuse rebuked the pope’s statement, according to The Star. O’Malley has stated that he couldn’t explain why Francis “chose the particular words he used” and that such expressions conveyed the message that “if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed abandon[ing] those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.” This response is in hope of mediating the situation away from more church bombings or worse violent escalation, and so far I am pleased to report it has been successful. Nonetheless, it does fail to respond to the issue. Like the Ending Clerical Abuse activist, Juan Carlos Cruz, told the BBC: “[Saying sorry] is not sufficient for a survivor. What we want is for the Pope to take action.” The Church’s rebutting of the Pope’s statement does just that it says sorry for what Pope Francis says but it does not formulate a plan to investigate the aforementioned 80 clergymen accused of sexual abuse.
In addition, to the immediate issues related to Catholicism, the Pope’s speech has had and may have more significant implications. Firstly, it has also stolen the headlines and clouded the other aims of the pontiff’s visit. For instance, a primary aim of the Pope’s visit was to deal with and advocate for indigenous people. Despite doing just that during his visit, meeting with Mapuche people in the Araucania region and publically denouncing the violence towards them in the forms of burning and bombing churches, it was hard to find stories on this in a search engine in a sea of sex-abuse stories. An article written by The Guardian quoted Isolde Reuque, a Mapuche leader from Temuco, saying: “I hope that the pope gives us the opportunity to tell the world our story,” and compels “the Chilean government that needs to resolve our problems, not the pope.” However, with the light being shone on another aspect of the countries internal conflicts the violence towards Mapuche may be overlooked and continue. This is significantly worrying given that, according to Human Rights Watch, it reaches all levels of society including police who shot four children with rubber bullets in July 2012.
Meanwhile, it undermines his condemnation of violence against women during his Peru visit. According to the BBC when speaking at a Mass in the northern city of Trujillo, the Pope called the violence against females “a plague” that needed to be combated across the region. This is significantly important given that the UN notes that half of the 25 countries with the largest number of murders of women are in Latin America. Nonetheless, the Pope’s credibility this week will no doubt affect his influence to combat violence against women in the region and the more immediate political crisis with regards to the aforementioned protests.
In summary, in order to promote peace in South America the Pope must address his failings to address clerical sexual-abuse claims. Only transparency can prevent violence.
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