Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Catholic News ServiceOctober 19, 2020
A protester gestures while a church is set on fire during a demonstration against Chile's government in Santiago Oct. 18, 2020, the one-year anniversary of the protests and riots that rocked the capital in 2019. (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters)

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNS) — Demonstrators burned two Catholic churches in Chile, where gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of mass protests against inequality descended into chaos.

Church officials and media reports described the Oct. 18 gatherings through the country as peaceful, but unrest broke out late in the day, with some protesters entering and vandalizing parishes in Santiago, the national capital.

Videos posted on social media showed the spire of Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Santiago burning, then crashing to the ground as a nearby crowd cheered.

St. Francis Borgia Church also was vandalized, and religious items were removed, church official said. The parish is home to institutional ceremonies for the “Carabineros,” Chile’s national police, a force unpopular with protesters over accusations of it employing repressive tactics, including 345 eye injuries from the use of pellets shot from anti-riot weapons, according to a U.N. report.

“These events over the past few hours in Santiago and other cities in Chile show that there are no limits to those that exacerbate violence,” the Chilean bishops’ conference said in an Oct. 18 statement.

“These violent groups contrast with many others who have demonstrated peacefully. The vast majority of Chile yearns for justice and effective measures that help to overcome inequality. They do not want more corruption or abuse; they expect dignified, respectful and fair treatment.”

Archbishop Celestino Aós Braco of Santiago called for an end to the violence Oct. 18, calling it evil and saying, “We cannot justify the unjustifiable.”

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

Chile erupted in protests in October 2019 after an increase in metro fares in the city of Santiago. But the small fare increase belied much deeper dissatisfaction with economic inequality in the country, which had been promoted in recent decades as a development success story with pro-market policies.

Demonstrators burned two Catholic churches in Chile, where gatherings to mark the one-year anniversary of mass protests against inequality descended into chaos.

Chileans go to the polls Oct. 25 in a referendum on whether to rewrite the nation’s constitution, which was drafted during the 1973-1990 regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Many of the protests have demanded rewriting the constitution; the bishops have encouraged citizen participation in the demonstrations.

“The citizenry that wants justice, probity, the overcoming of inequalities and opportunities to be able to pull ourselves up as a country will not be intimidated by threats of violence and will fulfill their civic duty,” the bishops’ statement said. “In democracies, we express ourselves with free votes of conscience, not the pressures of terror and force.”

The assailing of two parishes comes as Chile’s Catholic Church suffers the fallout from accusations of clergy sexual abuse and the hierarchy’s improper response to such crimes. A January survey from polling firm Cadem found that 75% of respondents disapprove of the church’s performance.

[Read this next: The Catholic Church in Latin America is losing control of the pro-life movement. Can it win it back?]

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Pope Francis will make his fourth journey to Africa on January 31. Hopes are high that Francis’ visit may kick-start the struggling peace processes in both countries.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 29, 2023
He called for dialogue “immediately and without delay.”
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 29, 2023
A Reflection for the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church, by Rachel Lu
Rachel LuJanuary 28, 2023
Pope Benedict XVI is accompanied by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney as he greets World Youth Day pilgrims at a welcoming ceremony at Barangaroo in Sydney, Australia, in this July 17, 2008, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Pope Benedict’s German biographer, Peter Seewald, confirmed that nine weeks before he died, Benedict revealed that insomnia was the “central motive” for his resignation.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 27, 2023