The Latest: Pope meets with Chileans abused by priests

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Posted: Jan 16, 2018 7:11 PM
The Latest: Pope meets with Chileans abused by priests

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The latest on the pope's visit to Chile (all times local):

9:10 p.m.

Pope Francis has met with a small group of Chilean victims of sex abuse by priests.

That is according to Vatican spokesman Greg Burke.

Burke told reporters that the meeting happened Tuesday at lunch. It was in the middle of the pope's first full day in Chile, which included celebrating on outdoor Mass, meeting with the Chilean president and visiting a women's prison.

Burke did not provide more details about the meeting victims.

Earlier in the day, Francis asked for forgiveness for the abuses committed against minors by priests.

Francis himself has been the center of controversy in Chile. In 2015, the pope appointed a bishop who had been close to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

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5:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is telling Chile's priests that sexual abuse of children not only has caused pain to the victims but also to the priests who have been held collectively responsible for the crimes of a few.

At a meeting Tuesday in Santiago's cathedral, Francis urged priests and nuns to have the strength to ask for forgiveness for abuse and the "clear-sightedness to call reality by its name."

Francis denounced the "weeds of evil" that had sprung up as a result of the scandal, and said he appreciated how the church was responding to it. He said the scandal was particularly painful "because of the harm and sufferings of the victims and their families, who saw the trust they had placed in the church's ministers betrayed. Pain too for the suffering of ecclesial communities, and pain for you brothers and sisters, who after working so hard, have seen the harm that has led to suspicion and questioning; in some or many of you this has been a source of doubt, fear or lack of confidence."

He said at times, some had even been insulted in the metro and that by wearing clerical attire they had "paid a heavy price." But he urged them to press on.

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4:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is telling inmates at a Chilean women's prison that they shouldn't lose hope or their dignity just because they've lost their freedom.

Francis told the women during the visit Tuesday that everyone's a sinner, and that change is always possible. He says "No one can take away your dignity." He called for prison sentences to not just serve as punishment, but to be a chance for inmates to learn new trades so they can re-enter society when they have completed their sentences.

Francis frequently visits detention centers on his foreign trips, part of his ministry to society's most peripheral. Tuesday's was his first-ever visit to a women's facility, and it was particularly moving. Many of the women wept, and the pope seemed choked up when the inmates sang a song they had composed for him.

One of the inmates chosen to speak for all, Janeth Zurita Interna, said she wanted to publicly apologize for her crimes and ask for mercy for the children who are growing up in prison with their mothers. She said: "We know that God forgives us, but we ask that society does so as well."

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3:35 p.m.

The bishop at the center of a controversy that has affected Pope Francis' standing in Chile is defending himself.

The Rev. Juan Barros attended a Mass celebrated by Francis Tuesday in Chile's capital of Santiago. Upon exciting, Barros told local media that, in his words, "Many lies have been made about me."

As he has in the past, Barros also said he did not witness any abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Barros was one of several priests trained by Karadima.

Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing scores of minors over several decades.

Francis surprised and angered many Chileans in 2015 when he appointed Barros as bishop of the southern city of Osorno.

Barros has always maintained that he didn't know what Karadima was up to.

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12:45 p.m.

At least some Chileans are welcoming the pope's plea for forgiveness over the priestly abuse of children.

Eighty-eight-year-old Cecilia Briseno Pizarro was at the Mass where the pope made the plea. She says that many Chileans were hoping for the pontiff to do exactly what he did.

Fifty-five-year-old nursing assistant Monica Reyes says Francis did the right thing. In her words, "When people make a mistake it's necessary that they ask for forgiveness."

Several newspapers put the pope's comments on the front page.

Francis infuriated many Chileans when he appointed a bishop who had been close to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious child abuser.

Francis did not mention the appointment of the Rev. Juan Barros, who attended a Mass the pope celebrated later in the morning.

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11:05 a.m.

Police in Chile's capital are arresting dozens of protesters near a square where Pope Francis is celebrating Mass.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene watched police detain scores of people who were marching toward the Plaza O'Higgins.

Police first shot tear gas Tuesday at the group of about 100 people, who were a few blocks from the plaza. Authorities have estimated about 400,000 on hand for the Mass itself.

After spraying the gas, officers moved in and made the arrests.

Protesters carried signs with messages like, "Burn, pope!" and "We don't care about the pope!"

On Monday, several groups had said they planned on marching and protesting during the Mass.

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9:10 a.m.

Three churches have been firebombed in Chile on the first full day of Pope Francis' visit to the Andean nation.

Authorities say two churches were burned in the early hours of Tuesday in the southern Araucania region. The pope is set to visit with indigenous Mapuches Wednesday in Temuco, the capital of Araucania. The third church attacked was in Puento Alto, just south of Santiago.

Including the latest firebombings, nine churches have been attacked in Chile since Friday.

In recent years, the Mapuche have burned churches to agitate for the return of ancestral lands and recognition of their language. It's not clear who has been behind the spate of recent burnings.

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9 a.m.

Pope Francis is begging the forgiveness of Chileans for the "irreparable damage" done to children who have been sexually abused by priests.

Francis opened his visit to Chile on Tuesday by referring directly to the abuse scandal in a speech to President Michelle Bachelet, lawmakers, justices and other Chilean authorities. The scandal has eroded the credibility of the Catholic Church here and cast a shadow over his visit, the first by a pope in three decades.

Francis said he felt "bound to express my pain and shame at the irreparable damage caused to children by some ministers of the church." He said he joined his fellow bishops in asking forgiveness, supporting victims and ensuring abuse doesn't happen again.

Chile's Catholic Church had already begun losing relevance when in 2010 it was found to have covered up for a prominent and powerful priest who sexually abused minors in his posh Santiago parish. The Vatican eventually sanctioned the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, in 2011, but the church has yet to recover from the scandal.

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6 a.m.

Pope Francis will be under pressure Tuesday to confront a priest sex abuse scandal during his first full day in Chile, an Andean nation where the majority identifies as Roman Catholic but strong currents of skepticism and even contempt for the church are increasingly present.

Many Chileans are still furious over his 2015 decision to appoint a bishop close to the Rev. Fernando Karadima, a priest found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades.

Bishop Juan Barros of the southern city of Osorno has always denied he knew what Karadima was doing when he was the priest's protege, but many Chileans have a hard time believing that.

"Sex abuse is Pope Francis' weakest spot in terms of his credibility," said Massimo Faggioli, a Vatican expert and theology professor at Villanova University in Philadelphia. "It is surprising that the pope and his entourage don't understand that they need to be more forthcoming on this issue.