Pope to meet with victims of Chile’s dictatorship on trip

Vatican City — Pope Francis will meet with two victims of Chile’s military dictatorship during his upcoming trip, and isn’t ruling out a private encounter with victims of clerical sex abuse, the Vatican said Thursday.

Spokesman Greg Burke made the comments in announcing details of the Jan. 15-21 trip to Chile and Peru, Francis’ 22nd foreign trip and sixth to his home continent of South America.

The encounter with two victims of the 1973-1990 Pinochet regime will take place Jan. 18 in the northern city of Iquique. Burke didn’t provide details other than to say they would give Francis a letter.

Burke was also asked if Francis would meet with abuse victims. Burke said no meeting was planned “but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible” and added that such meetings are best when conducted in private. He said it was “clearly an important theme” in Chile, where the scandal has seriously hurt the Catholic Church’s credibility.

Just this week, online database www.BishopAccountability.org said it had found 78 priests or members of religious orders credibly accused or convicted of abuse against minors.

Francis in the past has met in previously unannounced encounters with victims of abuse in the Vatican and in the United States, but his record in fulfilling his stated “zero tolerance” for abuse has been questioned by survivors.

While Francis never had to deal with the abuse crisis in his native Argentina, he is intimately familiar with the region’s experience with military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s. History’s first Latin American pope was in charge of the Argentine Jesuits during the “Dirty War,” when thousands of suspected leftists were killed or “disappeared” at the hands of Argentina’s military junta.

In neighboring Chile, after a bloody coup brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power, around 40,000 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned for political reasons. The government estimates that 3,095 were killed, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared.

Francis studied in Chile in 1960 during his novitiate with the Jesuits, and counts some of its churchmen as close friends and advisers.

Francis’ aim in visiting Chile and Peru is to highlight the plight of indigenous peoples and the delicate Amazon ecosystem.

In keeping with his ecological concerns, he’ll be traveling around both countries in used popemobiles, rather than have new ones outfitted, as is the norm. In Chile, the three popemobiles he’ll ride in were first used during his 2015 trips to the U.S. and Bolivia, while his Peruvian popemobiles were shipped from Colombia after his trip there last year, Burke said.