Francis may be a prophet without honour in his own land

Pope Francis just concluded the 22nd international trip of his papacy, to Chile and Peru. This will be the first trip about which pundits and commentators could have a meaningful debate over whether it was a success or a failure.

Feb 01, 2018

By John L. Allen Jr.
Pope Francis just concluded the 22nd international trip of his papacy, to Chile and Peru. This will be the first trip about which pundits and commentators could have a meaningful debate over whether it was a success or a failure.

It may also say something about the wisdom of Jesus’ saying, “A prophet is not without honour except in his native place, and among his own kin and in his own house,” that Francis’ first could-be flop came in South America.

On the Pope’s trip, controversy centred around Francis’ response to the clerical sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, and specifically, his handling of the case of a bishop in Chile who’s been accused by victims of that country’s most notorious paedophile priest of knowing about their abuse and covering it up.

In a nutshell, Francis apologised to victims for the enormous wrongs they’ve suffered, and also reiterated his commitment to a “zero tolerance” policy. He met privately with victims, in order to hear their stories and to share their pain.

At the same time, he did not yield an inch on the case of Bishop Juan Barros, one of four Chilean prelates accused of being in on the cover-up. There’s been pressure on Francis to remove Barros ever since he named him to a small southern Chilean diocese in 2015, but the Pope made crystal-clear that’s not going to happen.

At one stage, Francis accused those clamouring for Barros’s ouster of being engaged in “calumny,” and made clear he’s convinced Barros is innocent.

However, the pontiff later apologised for his choice of words, especially for appearing to suggest that victims should have “proof” before they come forward, acknowledging that could discourage many from doing so. Nevertheless, he did not back down at all from his vigorous defense of Barros.

The Pope’s line can either be seen as a courageous refusal to placate a lynch mob mentality, or as more proof that the Church is still struggling to match its “zero tolerance” rhetoric with reality, but in any event, there’s no denying this was a rough outing.

All that came against a backdrop of what had already been widespread public anger with the Church in Chile, some of it related to the abuse scandals and some to other causes.

The result was perhaps the most violent reactions to a papal trip in the modern era. In all, 11 churches were attacked around the time of the Pope’s presence, one featuring a direct threat to Francis that the next bomb would be “in your cassock,” while anti-papal protests in Santiago, the capital city, had to be broken up by police hurling tear gas.

Although there’s often a presumption that history’s first-ever Latin American pope ought to enjoy a huge homefield advantage on any return trip, if we’ve been paying close attention, we already should have known that’s not really so.

In many ways the outings to Chile and Peru were a tale of two trips. Yes, there was blowback both on the ground and in the media in Chile, but hardly any in Peru, where the climate was far more joyous and calm.

In Chile, Francis himself is accenting the positive. During his in-flight press conference on the way back to Rome, he said he was pleased with how things went.

“Chile had so many people on the streets,” he said, referring to the crowds that greeted him. “And these were not people being paid or being brought out by buses. The heartfelt presence of the Chilean people was very strong.”

All that said, the undeniable reality is that the rockiest trip of Francis’s papacy so far has come in South America. -- Crux Now

Total Comments:0

Name
Email
Comments