Amid controversy over recent sexual abuse scandals and the fire bombings of churches in Chile, a Roman Catholic country, Pope Francis sent a solemn apology to the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy during his week-long visit in Chile.
“I am one with my brother bishops, for it is right to ask forgiveness and make every effort to support the victims, even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that such things do not happen again,” the pope said in Santiago, Chile’s capital, while standing alongside the country’s president Michelle Bachelet on Jan. 16.
Although Francis’ apology was applauded by the congregates at the presidential palace, victims of abuse were unmoved by his words: “It’s not the time for apologies anymore; it’s the time for action,” Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean activist who says he was sexually abused by a priest at the age of 17, told The New York Times. “Here in Chile there are bishops who have witnessed abuse and who have covered that up and who have abused as well and they are still in their position. The pope should remove them.”
Later the same day, the pope gave mass alongside Bishop Juan Barros Madrid of Osorno, once accused of protecting a former priest who abused teenagers in the 1980s and 1990s, roiling many. (Bishop Barros firmly denies a cover up.) “That is such a terrible sign and an incoherent signal to survivors,” Cruz told the newspaper, adding in that it’s “the reason Chile has lost so much faith in the hierarchy and we have become a much less Catholic country.” The country has seen a steady decline in church membership. According to a think tank in Santiago, only 45 percent call themselves Catholic in 2017, compared to 74 percent in 1995.
Violent protests ensued outside the capital’s O’Higgins park, where the mass was held, and many arrests were made. According to an Associated Press photographer as reported by CBS News, protesters waved signs that read: “Burn, Pope!” and “We don’t care about the Pope!”