Arson attacks strike churches across Chile as Pope Francis visits indigenous homeland

Pope Francis has met a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests during his visit to Chile, praying and weeping with them, the Vatican said in a statement.

SANTIAGO, Chile-Pope Francis kicked off a tour of Chile by speaking out forcefully Tuesday against sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in a country where trust in the Church has declined precipitously in the wake of a pedophilia scandal.

"The criticism was heard loud and clear", said Marta Lagos, a political analyst who recently oversaw a study on the decline of Catholicism in Latin America, where evangelical denominations have cut into the Roman Catholic Church's base.

Pope Francis walks with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as he arrives at the global airport in Santiago, Chile, Jan. 15.

Francis spoke as the number of Catholic churches that have been attacked in the country in the past week rose to eight, both in the capital and in southern regions that are home to indigenous people.

"Francis said he felt 'bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused by some ministers of the church", Green reports.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading from St. Matthew, Pope Francis said Jesus' proclamation of the beatitudes is the answer to those who seek an encounter with him.

"It's not just time for the Pope to ask for forgiveness for the abuses but also to take action", said Juan Carlos Cruz, a victim of Karadima.

In Chile, he plans sessions with migrants, members of Chile's Mapuche indigenous group and victims of the 1973-1990 military dictatorship.

Francis did not refer by name to Chile's most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who in 2011 was barred from all pastoral duties and sanctioned by the Vatican to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" for sexually molesting minors.

The dawn attacks and an ambush on police were carried out to "cause disorder or disturbance of the public order" during the pope's visit to the central city of Temuco, said police chief Bruno Villalobos.

Pope Francis denounced the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights Wednesday, celebrating mass in a restive region of Chile hours after assailants firebombed churches and other targets.

Many Catholics here were outraged at the pope's appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid to head the diocese of Osorno, about 510 miles south of the capital.

According to the Washington Post, when Chileans were asked to evaluate Pope Francis on a scale of 0 to 10, they gave him a 5.3, "the lowest ranking he has received in Latin America". He said Mrs Collins, who was abused by a Dublin priest in the 1960s, had only received a handshake from the Pope.

For his part, Barros told local media after concelebrating the Mass with Francis and other bishops that he knew nothing of Karadima's crimes.

The pontiff's visit was met with nationwide protests against sexual abuse that have resulted in at least 100 people detained as the police dispersed protesters who had gathered in Santiago's O'Higgins park.

"Pope Francis, the next bombs will be in your cassock", said a pamphlet left behind.

Before greeting each of the 70 journalists, the pope said that he found the photo "by chance" and "was very moved when I saw this".

  • Leroy Wright