VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ trip to Chile and Peru, originally aimed at highlighting the plight of indigenous peoples and the delicate Amazon ecosystem, is being overshadowed by the Catholic Church’s dismal record confronting priestly sex abuse in Chile and political turmoil in Peru.
On the eve of the trip, vandals attacked five churches with firebombs in the Chilean capital of Santiago and warned in a leaflet that “the next bombs will be in your cassock.” That was an unprecedented threat against the pope and a violent start to what were already expected to be the first-ever protests against Francis on a foreign trip.
The Vatican agreed to the Chile visit knowing that the local church had lost much of the moral authority it earned during the Pinochet dictatorship, when bishops spoke out against human rights abuses when other institutions were silenced. But now, the Catholic Church in Chile has been largely marginalized, criticized as out-of-touch with today’s secular youth and discredited by its botched handling of a notorious pedophile priest.
In Peru, Francis had hoped to highlight the need to protect the vast Amazon and its native peoples. But he now has to contend with a president who only narrowly escaped impeachment a few weeks ago, sparked massive protests by issuing a politically-charged pardon and is embroiled in a continentwide corruption scandal.
Here are things to look for in Francis’ Jan. 15-21 trip, his 22nd overall and sixth to his home continent.
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