Pope’s visit to Peru and Chile casts harsh light on handling of sexual abuse cases

Criticism that Pope Francis is failing to tackle allegations of abuse, in the wake of scandals in both countries, is likely to overshadow his week-long visit

Pope Francis in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Activists in Chile have promised to protest every day of his visit. Photograph: Andrew Medichini/AP

Pope Francis leaves Rome this weekend for a tour of Chile and Peru amid renewed accusations that he is failing to tackle allegations of clerical sexual abuse after scandals in both countries.

The visit comes as the pope seeks to shore up the Catholic church faith against the loss of followers in two of South America’s most conservative nations.

During the week-long visit, the pope will also travel to the Amazon city of Puerto Maldonado in Peru, where he will meet indigenous leaders and is expected to expand on the environmental message of his 2015 encyclical on climate change .

But the tour is likely to be overshadowed by the issue of sexual abuse within the church.

Earlier this week, the Vatican took over a Peru-based Catholic sect whose founder has been accused of sexual and psychological abuse. Meanwhile, in Chile – where the pope arrives on Monday – activists have promised protest every day of the visit over his 2015 appointment of a bishop accused of covering up for one of the country’s most notorious paedophiles.

On Wednesday, the Vatican said it had appointed a commissioner to oversee the lay Catholic movement Sodalitium of Christian Life, weeks after Peruvian prosecutors announced they were seeking the arrest on charges of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, of the group’s founder, Luis Fernando Figari, and five other members.

The Pope had shown “particular attention to the gravity of the information”, the statement added.

But Pedro Salinas, an author and former Sodalitium member who first unveiled the abuse allegations, called it a “sensationalist manoeuvre” ahead of the trip.

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