VATICAN CITY | In a major victory for survivors of abuse in Chile, a court ruled that the Archdiocese of Santiago prevented a thorough investigation into sexual abuses committed by a former priest, Fernando Karadima.
The lawsuit brought on by survivors Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, was first dismissed five years ago.
The Chilean court of appeals overturned the lawsuit’s dismissal Oct.18 after new evidence obtained from raids conducted on the archdiocesan chancery proved that Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, the retired archbishop of Santiago, closed an investigation into Karadima. The court awarded 450 million pesos ($661,000) in compensation for damages to Karadima’s victims.
After the verdict, Cruz, Hamilton and Murillo released a statement saying that although the path to the verdict was long and full of difficulties, “it was worth it.”
“The strategies of the Chilean church, especially Cardinals (Riccardo) Ezzati and Errazuriz in covering up abuses, protecting abusers and silencing victims has received a strong response from Chilean courts,” the survivors said.
Both the Chilean courts and the Vatican, they added, are “on the same line to end the culture of abuse and cover-up of which the cardinals are faithful representatives.”
At the center of the court’s ruling was a 2009 email sent by Cardinal Errazuriz to Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, the former apostolic nuncio to Chile, in which the cardinal states that he presented the accusations of abuse to the archdiocesan promotor of justice, the church’s canonical prosecutor, because “it usually calms the aggressiveness of the accusers.”
“Out of respect for Father Karadima, I did not ask the prosecutor to interrogate him; I only asked (Auxiliary) Bishop Andres Arteaga for his opinion. He thought that everything was absolutely implausible. Considering the facts, I closed the investigation,” Cardinal Errazuriz wrote.
Known as an influential and charismatic priest, then-Father Karadima founded a Catholic Action group in a wealthy Santiago parish and drew hundreds of young men to the priesthood. Four of Karadima’s proteges went on to become bishops, including retired Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno.
However, several former seminarians revealed in 2010 that the Chilean priest sexually abused them and other members of his parish community for years. Although a criminal trial in 2010 dismissed a criminal complaint against Karadima brought on by his victims, a Vatican investigation found him guilty and sentenced him to a life of prayer and penance.
The pope, who initially defended his 2015 appointment of Bishop Barros as head of the Diocese of Osorno, apologized after receiving a 2,300-page report from Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. He subsequently accepted Bishop Barros’ resignation June 11.
He also met with Hamilton, Cruz and Murillo in late April to listen to their experiences and apologize for his initial assessment of the situation.
The Vatican announced Sept. 28 that Pope Francis expelled Karadima from the priesthood, saying he “made this exceptional decision in conscience and for the good of the church.”
Several weeks later, he dismissed two former bishops accused of sexual abuse — Francisco Jose Cox and Marco Antonio Ordenes — from the clerical state without possibility of an appeal.
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