January 16, 2018 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT activists protest Pope Francis in Chile

The Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile hung this banner on the front of the Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in anticipation of Pope Francis‘ visit to Chile. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pope Francis on Monday arrived in Chile amid protests from LGBT rights activists.

Óscar Rementería, spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, an LGBT advocacy group, is among those who spoke at a protest in the Chilean capital of Santiago that corresponded with Francis’ arrival at the city’s international airport.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation also set up a large screen onto which it projected images of what it described as the Roman Catholic Church’s “crimes and atrocities.” One of the images contained Francis’ picture and a 2015 quote the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation attributed to him.

“The homosexual union is ‘an anomalous, strange and irresponsible lifestyle,’” reads the quote.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet — who introduced a bill last August that would extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples — greeted Francis at the airport. Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, told the Washington Blade on Monday that his group “rejected” the government’s invitation to attend a welcome ceremony for Francis at the Presidential Palace.

Fundación Iguales, another LGBT advocacy group, on Monday noted in a tweet directed at Francis that 66 percent of Chilean Catholics support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Fundación Iguales pointed out this figure is the same among Chileans who are not Catholic.

“They back marriage equality because they believe in a society with equal justice for all,” it said.

Fundación Iguales and the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation earlier this month criticized Fidel Espinoza, president of Chilean House of Deputies, for postponing a vote on a transgender rights bill that had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday during Francis’ visit.

The chamber’s Human Rights Commission on Monday approved the measure, which would allow trans Chileans who are at least 18 years old to legally change their name and gender without surgery or a court order. Fundación Iguales on Wednesday is scheduled to launch a pro-LGBT business index it has developed with the Human Rights Campaign.

Gay sex abuse victim remains critical of Francis, church

Francis is scheduled to visit the Chilean cities of Temuco and Iquique before flying to Lima, Peru, on Thursday. Francis will travel to the Peruvian cities of Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo before returning to Rome on Jan. 21.

Francis’ trip coincides with continued outrage over the Vatican’s response to child sex abuse within the church in Chile.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay man who now lives in the U.S., is among the hundreds of people who Rev. Fernando Karadima sexually abused over more than three decades in his parish — Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús — in an upper middle class Santiago neighborhood.

Two Chilean courts ruled they could not prosecute Karadima because the statute of limitations had expired. The Vatican in 2011 found him guilty and sanctioned him to a “lifetime of penance and prayer” at a convent.

Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in a 2013 civil lawsuit accused Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, and his predecessor, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, and the Archbishop of Santiago of covering up Karadima’s abuse.

A Chilean newspaper in 2015 published private emails between Ezzati and Errázuriz in which they discussed their efforts to block Cruz’s nomination to a sex abuse commission that Francis created. Francis in the same year appointed Rev. Juan Barros, a Karadima protégé, as the new bishop of Osorno, a city in southern Chile.

The Associated Press last week reported Francis in a 2015 letter acknowledged Barros’ appointment would have sparked outrage in Chile because of his close ties to Karadima.

A video that a tourist from Argentina shot in St. Peter’s Square in 2015 shows Francis describing the Osorno residents who were protesting against Barros as “dumb.” Chilean television later broadcast it.

“No more excuses on sexual abuse,” Cruz told the Blade on Monday from Santiago. “It’s time for action.”

“In Chile there are many bishops who have covered up abuse and he does nothing,” he added, referring specifically to Francis. “He is pure talk and no action. We are tired of something. We need action.”

Juan Carlos Cruz, gay news, Washington Blade

Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man, says a Catholic priest in the South American country sexually abused him for eight years in the 1980s. He remains a vocal critic of Pope Francis over his response to child sex abuse in the church. (Photo courtesy of Juan Carlos Cruz)

Cruz said he and other victims of clergy sex abuse asked to meet with Francis in Chile. Cruz told the Blade the Vatican turned down their request.

“[Francis] prefers to listen to his bishops than to support survivors,” said Cruz.

Francis born in neighboring Argentina

Francis was born in Argentina, which borders Chile. He was the archbishop of Buenos Aires when he was elected pope in 2013.

The U.S., Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil are among the countries to which Francis has traveled since he became pope. The Vatican’s tone towards homosexuality and other LGBT-specific issues has moderated under his papacy, but advocates maintain church teachings have not changed.

Juan Carlos Cruz, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Fernando Karadima sexually abused Juan Carlos Cruz and hundreds of others over more than three decades at the Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Santiago, Chile. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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