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Analysis: Pope uses Latin American trips to recover soul of the Catholic Church

Tracy Wilkinson, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Religious News

"This is the first solid evidence that the losses have continued even under his papacy," Chesnut said.

Francis apologized for the abuse by Karadima and others in his first public comments after setting foot in Chile, and he held an unscheduled private meeting with victims in the Chilean capital, Santiago, on Tuesday. He made a similar gesture during a trip to the United States in 2015, as had Benedict, who was credited with beginning to address a scandal that John Paul had preferred to ignore.

"Words cannot completely alleviate my pain for the abuse you have suffered," Francis said at the 2015 meeting. "I am profoundly sorry that your innocence has been violated by those whom you trusted."

In Chile, around 70 priests and other church officials have been accused of abuse. In Peru, Francis may have attempted to inoculate himself from the issue by ordering Vatican takeover of the Christian Life Society, a conservative organization that Peruvian prosecutors are investigating for alleged sexual and psychological abuse by senior officials of young men and children.

The pope has also been strategic in scheduling a Mass or other ceremony to focus on youth, whose ranks have seen some of the highest desertions of faithful.

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Whether it is a sign of anti-clericalism, or politics, or other causes, the pope's time in Chile has been marred by death threats and the firebombing of several churches. It is practically unheard of in recent years for violent protests to be staged over a papal visit.

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