Pope Francis' visit to Chile was always going to be fraught, but it has taken on an unprecedented degree of opposition with the firebombings of Catholic churches ahead of his arrival and protests by Chileans fed up with priest sex abuse and cover-up.

Francis is coming to a country where around 60 percent of Chileans declare themselves to be Roman Catholics, but where the church has lost the influence and moral authority it once enjoyed thanks to sex scandals, secularization and an out-of-touch clerical caste.

The pope will try to reverse the trend during his three-day visit, which gets underway in earnest Tuesday with a series of protocol visits for church and state, and will be followed by a three-day trip to neighboring Peru.