During the Jan. 11 installation Mass of Celestino Aós as the new archbishop of Santiago, Chile, a small number of protesters opened backpacks near the front of the church and dumped tear gas canisters on the floor.
An Instagram post by portadasoñada, which describes itself as “an independent and self-managed media outlet” included a video of the incident, which it said was intended to "denounce in the face the highest Catholic authority in the country for his silence and complicity with the government."
The United Nations has warned of evidence of numerous human rights violations committed by police and military personnel in Chile since October. These include excessive and unnecessary use of force, sometimes resulting in injury or death, as well as torture, rape, and arbitrary detention.
Demonstrations against the government began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.
Several churches across Chile have been attacked, looted and even burned amid anti-government protests in the country.
The La Tercera newspaper in Chile reported that the rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Ignacio Sánchez, was present at the installation Mass of Archbishop Aós.
“I saw a person spill out some jars on the ground that looked like they were tear gas canisters,” Sánchez said, adding, “it is lamentable that people don't know that the freedom we have inside the church requires respect, requires basic, decent and ethical behavior.”
On Jan. 12, Kairos News published a letter from the coordinating committee of the Peace through Justice lay group in Valparaiso to their counterpart in Santiago which referenced the canister incident and citied the prophet Jeremiah, making a “fraternal appeal” to the bishops to speak up on “the grave violations of human rights occurring in our country.”
The bishops have, on several occasions, called on the security forces to respect human rights. In an Oct. 24, 2019 statement, shortly after the initial violence broke out, they stated, “United in the sorrow of the relatives of those who have lost their lives and of so many who have been injured, we call on all the people who are demonstrating and the competent agencies and authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights and proper treatment of those detained.”
In a Nov. 8 statement, Aós – who was then serving as apostolic administrator of Santiago – said, “Let us not try to justify any violence, violence is always bad, it leads to more violence.” He also called for a new “Social Pact” and for structural, personal and constitutional changes to help remedy the crisis.
In his Jan. 11 homily, Archbishop Aós said that “we're going through days of agitation, division and attacks,” and warned that “division, injustice, lies, and violence are contrary to our Christian condition, our baptismal commitment.”
“No Christian can remain an onlooker. Much less a censor or a condemner; we all must ask ourselves, what is the will of God for me? Or the more familiar phrase, what would Christ do in my place?” he said.