Latin America & Caribbean

Chile protesters challenge Pope on Church sex abuse

Sylvia Aguilar Maldonado at a protest in Santiago
Image caption Sylvia Aguilar has travelled to Santiago to protest against the appointment of Bishop Barros

"The Pope and the Chilean bishops don't think about us and it really upsets us and hurts our soul," says Sylvia Aguilar Maldonado.

The 79-year-old is the oldest member in a group of parishioners who have travelled some 900km (560 miles) from southern city of Osorno to Santiago, to make their voices heard during Pope Francis's visit to the Chilean capital

"We are all Catholics and believe in the same God. We want to find a solution to this," she says referring to her group's vocal opposition to the appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno.

Bishop Barros was appointed two years ago despite stiff opposition among parishioners.

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Media captionProtesters surrounded Bishop Barros in the cathedral

One thousand people signed a letter to Pope Francis asking him to review the appointment.

The parishioners accuse Bishop Barros of using his position in the Catholic Church to try to block an investigation into the actions of his mentor, Catholic priest Fernando Karadima.

'Neither lefties, nor stupid'

In 2011, the Vatican found Fr Karadima guilty of sexually abusing young boys and ordered him to live a life of penance and prayer.

A Chilean court later found the allegations against Fr Karadima to be truthful but said he could not be prosecuted because too much time had passed.

Ms Aguilar is among some 35 parishioners with signs which say "Ni zurdos, ni tontos" (Neither lefties nor stupid) lining the route taken by the Pope to the city from the airport.

Image caption Protesters accused Bishop Barros of "covering up" the sexual abuse committed by Fr Karadima

The words were used by Pope Francis to describe the parishioners who are upset by Bishop Barros's appointment and were caught on camera while he was speaking to a pilgrim in Rome in October 2015.

More than two years may have passed since the Pope uttered those words, but Ms Aguilar and the rest of her group are still deeply offended.

"Sadly when we asked the Pope to remove Bishop Juan Barros, instead of helping us, he accused us of being stupid and left-wing and that is why we are here," she explains.

"He doesn't even know us, so how can he accuse us of being such things? He thinks we are politically motivated even though we come from different parishes in Osorno and are doing this because we are against priests being allowed to abuse children."

'The time for forgiveness is over'

Apart from their roadside protest, the parishioners also organised a conference about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church to coincide with the day of Pope Francis's arrival in Chile.

It was attended by a number of international organisations fighting for the rights of sexual abuse victims.

Juan Carlos Cruz is one of those who attended. Mr Cruz, who was abused by Fr Karadima when he was a young boy, is adamant that "the time for saying sorry and forgiving is over".

Image caption Juan Carlos Cruz says that saying sorry is not enough

"[Saying sorry] is not is not sufficient for a survivor. What we want is for the Pope to take action."

"There are concrete things that he can do, like removing priests who have been accused and sentenced by the Chilean justice system or canon law and bishops who have covered up [sexual abuse]," he says.

The activists also demand more transparency from the Church, which they accuse of acting secretively.

Changing attitudes

Juan Carlos Claret is the spokesman for the parishioners from Osorno who helped organise the conference.

Image caption Juan Carlos Claret wants the Church to take action

Mr Claret says things have changed for the worse since Pope John Paul II visited Chile in 1987.

John Paul II condemned Gen Augusto Pinochet's regime as "dictatorial" and insisted that the Roman Catholic Church had to fight to bring democracy to Chile.

According to Mr Claret, back then, many Chileans opposed to the Pinochet regime would turn to the Catholic Church for help.

He says that the roles have been reversed and now he and other Catholics are asking Chilean society for help against the Church.

The Vatican spokesman, Greg Burke, has said that the Church has the utmost respect for those planning to protest against sexual abuse in the Church.

He also said that there was a possibility that Pope Francis would meet victims of sexual abuse in private, as he has on past trips, but there has been no official confirmation of such a meeting.

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