New York Times - June 20, 2010
Chilean Archbishop Refers Child Abuse Case Against Priest to Vatican
By PASCALE BONNEFOY and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
SANTIAGO, Chile — The archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, has asked the Vatican to decide the fate of a prominent Chilean priest who has been accused by several former parishioners of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers.
On Friday the cardinal sent a report prepared by the Roman Catholic Church in Chile regarding the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. In a statement on the Web site of the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Errázuriz said he asked the Vatican to lift the 10-year statute of limitations for accusations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest. That would permit the opening of a three-judge canon law trial to determine whether Father Karadima abused at least four boys who were parishioners at El Bosque parish, where he is based.
In a statement released Friday by his lawyer, Father Karadima, 79, spoke publicly for the first time since a criminal complaint was filed against him in April. He said he was innocent of the accusations and was “grateful” that the church investigation was being referred to the Vatican.
“Before God,” the statement said, “I believe that my acts cannot be the basis for the serious accusations that I have been submitted to publicly, with damage that is already irreparable.”
Father Karadima has not celebrated his customary Sunday Mass since the criminal allegations were made, and Cardinal Errázuriz said he had asked him not to perform any public clerical functions.
Father Karadima is the subject of a criminal investigation that is expected to conclude this month, said Juan Pablo Hermosilla, a lawyer representing some of the accusers. He said a prosecutor was scheduled to interrogate the priest on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“It is sufficiently clear that the abuses did in fact take place,” Mr. Hermosilla said. “What remains to be investigated is the length of time they went on.”
The initial criminal complaint filed in April accused Father Karadima of molesting at least four young men — three when they were minors — during the last two decades. Since a judge began hearing closed-door testimony, four other men have come forward to accuse the priest of sexually abusing them, bringing the total number of accusers to eight, Mr. Hermosilla said. One original accuser said the abuse began when he was 14.
Dr. James Hamilton, 44, a gastroenterologist, said that soon after Father Karadima chose him at 17 to be part of his Catholic Action youth movement, the priest began kissing him on the mouth and touching his genitals. On a retreat at a seaside town west of Santiago when he was 18, Dr. Hamilton said, the abuse went much further, and it continued for nearly 20 years.
Dr. Hamilton said that in 2005 he filed an official claim of sexual abuse by Father Karadima to a bishop outside the parish. No one responded, he said. Another accuser, José Murillo, said he wrote to Cardinal Errázuriz in 2003 to complain about the priest.
The cardinal said in April that he began an investigation in 2005 into the accusations against Father Karadima but suspended it after a short time. He did not reopen it until 2009, he said.
Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago, and Alexei Barrionuevo from Santiago and Recife, Brazil.
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One of Chile's most respected and influential priests denies criminal complaints he sexually abused minors