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Pope Francis Begins South American Trip In Chile


Many analysts see the growth and the future of the Catholic Church in what's called the global south. Vast numbers of Christians live in places like Latin America and Africa, so it made sense that the church selected its pope from Argentina and that today, the pope is visiting Santiago, Chile. Thousands of people lined the streets to welcome the pope last night, although there is a cloud over the church in Chile. Dozens of priests there are accused of covering up sexual abuse. Piotr Kozak is following the pope's trip. We've reached him by Skype in Santiago.

Welcome to the program.

PIOTR KOZAK: Hi. Good morning, NPR.

INSKEEP: How has the scandal affected the reception of the pope so far?

KOZAK: Well, in different ways. There is the - there are a lot of groups out protesting. There was one group last night on the main highway into Santiago who come from the city of Osorno. That's in the south. And they are protesting about the nomination of a bishop two years ago, three years ago - Juan Barros, who was involved in covering up one of the most prolific pedophiles in the history of the Catholic Church in Chile, Fernando Karadima.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, now you're touching on something that would connect the pope to this, in a way - right? - because, of course, there have been scandals for decades, but in this case, we have a bishop who was promoted by Pope Francis himself.

KOZAK: As a bishop promoted by Pope Francis - although a letter has just been released - an email from Pope Francis to the Chilean bishops recognizing that there was a - this was an email that released around the - just before Barros was nominated as bishop, saying, yes, there's a problem; we should've - we did want to ask them to (unintelligible) Barros and two other bishops involved in the scandal of their taking a year's sabbatical and then disappearing off of the earth - disappearing from the scene, basically. But then there was a backlash, which appears to have come from the Chilean church - Chilean part of the Catholic Church, which is one of the most conservative of the whole Catholic world, and the...

INSKEEP: Oh, the church - the local church stuck up for their guy, even if the pope raised questions.

KOZAK: Well, indirectly - yeah, indirectly, they stuck up for the guy, yeah.

INSKEEP: Although let's remember, the pope is the pope. He could have not promoted this bishop.

KOZAK: The pope has the authority to promote or not to promote. The - in the end, he did promote him. And although he did, in the email, which the church hasn't denied its authenticity - he recognized that there was a huge problem in Chile.

INSKEEP: So very briefly, has the pope in his early hours in Chile addressed this scandal in any way?

KOZAK: No. They're completely ignoring it. I mean, they're - they are - he's addressing the issue of migrant, which is another major issue in Chile. There's something like 800,000 migrants in this country, 400,000 of which - possibly 200,000 to 400,000 are undocumented. There is an issue with the indigenous people in the south, with - and I've read there that he is going to meet the indigenous people who were - there's a huge conflict going on over land rights with - in - the indigenous lands in the south are almost a military zone, but that's not really reported in the international press. But in terms of the victims of the - of sex abuse, they are not addressing it. And he's - as far as I know, he's not going to meet any of the victims.

INSKEEP: So much to discuss. Piotr Kozak - reporter in Chile. Thank you very much.

KOZAK: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENE AUBRY'S "LA GRANDE CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.