Chileans lose faith as Vatican scrambles to contain sex abuse scandal

A Chilean judge in the same year determined the Vatican’s canonical sentence was valid but Karadima was not prosecuted by the civil justice system because the statute of limitations had expired.

So many Chileans were shocked in 2015 when Pope Francis appointed as a bishop a clergyman accused of covering up for Karadima, and defended that choice in a visit to Chile last month.

Chile remains largely conservative on social issues. It only legalized divorce in 2004, making it one of the last countries in the world to do so. Chile’s ban on abortion, one of the strictest in the world, was lifted in 2017 for special circumstances only. Same-sex marriage remains illegal.

Yet El Bosque, like many other Chilean parishes, no longer has the large crowds attending Mass that it did in the 1970s and 1980s, when Karadima was a pillar of the Providencia community.

“Karadima did a lot of damage to the Catholic Church,” said Ximena Jara Novoa, 65, a hairdresser who lives in a neighboring community but has worked in Providencia for 45 years. She once counted Karadima’s mother and sister as clients.

“If I had been from this neighborhood, I would not let my son go to church anymore,” she said in an interview.

A poll by Santiago-based thinktank Latinobarometro in January 2017 showed the number of Chileans calling themselves Catholics had fallen to 45 percent, from 74 percent in 1995.

In the same survey, Pope Francis, who hails from neighboring Argentina and is the first Latin American pontiff, was ranked by Chileans asked to evaluate him at 5.3 on a scale of zero to 10, compared to a 6.8 average in Latin America.

The pope surprised many Chileans last month by defending the appointment of Bishop Juan Barros, who considered Karadima his mentor and is accused by several men of covering up sexual abuse of minors committed by the priest.

Barros, of the southern diocese of Osorno, has said he was unaware of any wrongdoing by Karadima.

Just before leaving Chile, the pope testily told a Chilean reporter: “The day I see proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. There is not a single piece of evidence against him. It is all slander. Is that clear?”

The comments were widely criticized and just days after his return to Rome, Francis made a remarkable U-turn and ordered a Vatican investigation into the accusations.



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