ROME – A shirtless protest in front of one of the world’s largest cathedrals. A discredited papal representative heading to Portugal from Chile acknowledges failures in responding to allegations of clerical sexual abuse. And as murder rates continue to rise, a Mexican cardinal says that killing cannot be the solution to conflict.

Here’s a roundup of news coming from the Catholic Church in Latin America.

In Argentina, activists again call for burning down churches

A rally happening during Argentina’s annual “National Encounter of Women” on Sunday included a protest against the cathedral of La Plata, the city hosting the event this year.

The rally, organized by Argentina’s leading leftwing party, wasn’t officially supported by the organizers of the women’s event.

As in previous years, participants at the rally threw Molotov cocktails and human excrement on churches.

This year the rally focused on calls for the separation of church and state. Shirtless women – calling the protest a “tetazo,” or “boob-protest” – shouted slogans such as: “Abort your heterosexuality,” “’death to the macho’ is not a metaphor,” “the only church that illuminates is the one on fire,” “lesbianize yourself,” and “free, legal and safe abortion.”

According to local reports, one of the most popular chants this year was a profanity-laden insult against Christ the King.

Later in the day, the same group left the women encounter’s official rally to go back to the cathedral to start another protest, which included throwing incendiary devices at the building, which was being guarded by 100 female police officers.

Days before the Oct. 12-14 meeting, some of the participants distributed posted images on social media calling for “the destruction of everything,” under the slogan of “I will never be police.”

The women had gathered in La Plata, some 30 miles from downtown Buenos Aires, to take part in the 34th edition of the women’s encounter.

Next year, the leftwing event will be renamed the “Plurinational encounter of women, lesbians, trans, transsexuals, bisexuals and non-binaries.”

The “Plurinational” is to reflect the fact that indigenous women from different ethnic groups take part in the encounter.

The three days of meetings included workshops on “women and cannabis,” “women and sexual work,” “women and deconstruction of feminized bodies,” “women, pleasures and free time,” “women, political militancy and resistance,” “women and unemployment,” “feminization of poverty,” and “women and bisexuality, pansexuality and polysexuality.”

Days before the encounter, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez of La Plata, often labeled as one of Pope Francis’s ghostwriters, urged Catholics not to personally defend church buildings and to leave that job to the police.

“There are people with fear, including members of the security forces, politicians and neighbors, as if a horde thirsty for revenge and destruction was coming,” Fernandez wrote in La Nacion, one of Argentina’s leading dailies. “But they are women, of many colors, with different ways of defending their rights, and also with differences between them. They are joined by the dream of true equality, and anger is understood when history is remembered – centuries of oppression, humiliation, sexist domination, violence.”

Noting that sometimes the anger is concentrated against the Church, the archbishop said that the institution needs some “self-criticism” on this issue.

Those who want to harm and destroy churches and public properties, he argued, don’t represent the majority of the women taking part in the event. Regardless, Fernandez wrote, “those of us who have failed to assume the legitimate claims of women as our own will simply have to open our ears. Welcome those who come to enrich the public debate.”

Addressing the Catholic community, the archbishop begged “to avoid any form of verbal aggression and any initiative that ends up being provocative,” including, for instance, praying in front of the cathedral. Masses were suspended for most of the weekend in the cathedral and other major churches.

“Catholic women can give their opinion in the workshops, or pray in their homes,” he wrote. “But there are no actions in those days that, with the excuse of protecting churches, can be interpreted as a Christian ‘resistance’.”

The (semi) mea culpa of a papal representative

Italian Archbishop Ivo Scapolo, the former papal representative to Chile who was recently appointed by Pope Francis as nuncio in Portugal, recently spoke to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio.

Groups of clerical sexual abuse survivors and others in Chile have accused Scapolo of being part of the problem in the local church’s response to the abuse crisis, the worst in Latin America.

Among other things, the nuncio is tasked with appointing new bishops, so he was at least partially responsible for Francis’s decision to transfer Bishop Juan Barros to the Diocese of Osorno in 2015, the spark that blew up the scandal in the Chilean Church.

Barros has long been accused of covering up for former priest Fernando Karadima, one of the country’s most infamous pedophiles. Eventually, the pope accepted Barros’s resignation.

RELATED: New revelations on sex abuse hit Chilean Church

In the interview, Scapolo said that “as a church, on several occasions, we haven’t had the courage to accept the complaints and to promptly take the necessary measures” when it comes to addressing cases of clerical sexual abuse.

Yet, he also said that since his arrival in Chile, he had to deal with “several” cases of abuse, and even more so since Francis’s Jan. 15-18, 2018 apostolic visit to the country, when he received “an avalanche” of new allegations.

“I think I did what was humanly possible to face the situation. I tried to act in accordance with the truth, justice and charity,” he said, adding that “You can always do better. Believe me, I did what I could.”

Asked about the accusations of cover-up and inaction, he said: “I simply say that it’s not true. In conscience I can say that I have fulfilled my duty as pontifical representative. My superiors did not lack appreciation for my work.”

Mexico and Brazil, political messages during Marian celebrations

On Sunday, Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega of Guadalajara told two million of the faithful gathered to welcome the Virgin of Zapopan to a local basilica that “a violent society that sees death as a solution to their conflict ends up being dehumanizing.”

“The violence that is characterizing our social relationships does not correspond to the will of God,” he said, and then emphasized the spiral of violence that is affecting Mexico, highlighting the suffering of families, especially mothers, who don’t know the whereabouts of their children. “The Virgin accompanies [them] from the Cross, from where she has shared the pain produced by violent death.”

Robles Ortega also said that without the respect for the right to life, all other rights are “ideological illusions” that end up deforming and eroding authentic human rights.

The Virgin of Zapopan, he said, is a reminder that true peace can only come from receiving others as they are, recognizing the intrinsic value of each person, product of their mere existence.

On Saturday, Brazil marked the national feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of the country. The archbishop of Aparecida, Orlando Brandes, used his homily to denounce the country’s right wing as “violent, unfair,” adding that Brazil is “shooting at the pope, and the synod” referring to the summit of bishops taking place in Rome on the Amazon region.

Members of the administration of Brazil’s conservative populist president Jair Bolsonaro have admitted the government is “monitoring” the synod and some have accused the country’s bishops of having a leftwing agenda. Although a Catholic, Bolsonaro has politically allied himself with Brazil’s growing Evangelical churches.

The country’s Vice President Hamilto Mourao spoke about the synod when he was in Rome this weekend to attend the canonization of the first Brazilian-born saint, Sister Dulce Pontes.

Mourao said that it’s the responsibility of the Brazilian government alone to “preserve and protect” the Amazon region in the country but denied allegations that the government judges the pope as “an enemy.”

Francis has said the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon has the two-fold mission of talking about evangelization and the care for the environment.

Francis, a devotee of Our Lady of Aparecida, had sent a message to Brazil ahead of the feast day, urging the Virgin to accompany the people “in their pains, when they cannot grow because of so many political or social or ecological limitations.”

Brandes spoke about this during his homily.

“We need the ecological life, the natural life, the life of our common home,” he said. “Blessed is the synod on the Amazon, which is thinking about the life of those trees, those rivers, those birds, but mainly those peoples.”

He also said he longs for a Brazil where children no longer die because of a “lost bullet,” and denounced the country’s corruption, “which removes bread from our mouth and increases social inequalities.”

On unemployment, the archbishop said the Virgin of Aparecida cannot “be happy with sons and daughters not knowing how to survive each day.”

According to local reports, the procession of the Virgin into the sanctuary included an “environmentalist” version of the Ave Maria, that went: “Pray for us sinners. Bless these brown lands. Its rivers, its fields and serene nights. Bless the waterfalls and butterflies that adorn the forests.”

Hours after the main celebration, Bolsonaro visited the shrine and shook Brandes’s hand.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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