11 Jan 2011

Cover up of sex crimes by Chilean priests an example of how the church has handled abuse allegations globally

New York Times - October 27, 2010

Handling of Abuse in Chilean Church Questioned


SANTIAGO, Chile — In April of last year, the Rev. Juan Esteban Morales, the head of a Roman Catholic parish here, visited Dr. James Hamilton at his clinic to make an unusual request: that he stop pursuing an annulment to his marriage.

It was not simply a matter of giving the marriage another try. Instead, Dr. Hamilton said he was warned that the annulment could “seriously affect the image” and health of one of Chile’s most influential and respected priests.

The reason: Dr. Hamilton wrote in his annulment request that the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, started abusing him when he was 17, irreparably harming his relationship with his wife.

“No one has shown any compassion for me,” Dr. Hamilton said he told Father Morales, who is also a doctor. “My life has been destroyed, and I am surprised that someone like you, a colleague and a priest who has to protect Christian souls, would ask me to do something like that.”

The sheltering appears to be ending. On Wednesday, a judge ordered that Father Karadima, 80, once an unmatched spiritual leader with several bishops and dozens of priests as disciples, be interrogated in relation to charges of sexually abusing at least four young parishioners.

Many in Chile expect the Vatican, now investigating the charges, to rule on Father Karadima’s case any day, possibly imposing sanctions from expulsion from the priesthood to a prohibition against contact with young people.

As the scandal widens over Father Karadima’s actions, it has raised damaging questions about why the Chilean church hid the allegations for so long. This conservative nation has been shaken since the matter became public this year, staining respected church figures who protected Father Karadima.

For years, church officials, including Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, archbishop of Santiago, tried to shame accusers into dropping claims, refused to meet with them or failed to carry out formal investigations, according to interviews and court testimony.

The Catholic Church’s handling of abuse claims here offers a revealing look into how it has approached accusations against priests around the world. From Europe to the United States to South America, sexual abuse claims have caused a rippling crisis for the church, which for years tried to play down the concerns but more recently has shown a willingness to investigate and punish offending priests.

The first reports of abuse by Father Karadima reached Cardinal Errázuriz in mid-2003, months after the Chilean Bishops Conference issued procedures for handling cases of sexual abuse involving priests. In a letter to the cardinal, a young parishioner, José Murillo, told of the abuses he suffered, assuming an investigation would be opened.

The cardinal sent back a note, saying he was praying for Mr. Murillo, but failed to open a preliminary investigation. He chose not to do so, the cardinal said in an e-mailed response, because “unfortunately, I judged that the accusations were not credible at the time.”

But the Rev. Marcelo Gidi, a canon law expert, said that according to the Chilean church guidelines, a simple report of alleged abuses should have been enough. “Even if a church official hears of abuses through the news, there must be an investigation,” he said. “What should be judged as ‘credible’ enough to open an investigation is the good faith of the accuser, not the accusation itself.”

The concerns about Father Karadima stretched back even further. A publicist who grew close to Father Karadima stated in court that in 1984 he and a group of parishioners sent a letter to Archbishop Juan Francisco Fresno, who later became a cardinal, complaining about Father Karadima’s “improper conduct.” The publicist later found out through someone who worked with the cardinal that the letter had been “torn up and thrown away,” he said in a court statement.

Eleven years later, the approach appeared similar.

In 1995, after enduring Father Karadima’s sexual advances, Mr. Murillo, then 19, confronted the priest. Shortly afterward, Mr. Murillo said, an angry Father Karadima and one of his disciples, the Rev. Andrés Arteaga, who is now a bishop, cornered him in a meeting room.

“They humiliated me, and Arteaga treated me really badly, questioning my intelligence and telling me I should stop studying philosophy and take up theater, and that I should listen more closely to Karadima,” Mr. Murillo said.

Father Karadima had asked Mr. Murillo to accompany him to his bedroom in the parish to confess, Mr. Murillo said. A bishop was there when they arrived. Mr. Murillo said Father Karadima pulled out a bottle of whiskey and gave him a glass “to relax me.”

The bishop, looking nervous, left. While Mr. Murillo told him about his life, the priest touched the young man’s leg and genitals, then opened the zipper of his pants and tried to masturbate him, he said.

“I stopped him and left crying,” Mr. Murillo said.

Bishop Arteaga did not respond to requests for comment made through a church spokesman. Multiple attempts to reach Father Karadima were also unsuccessful.

Around that time, a crisis was brewing in the marriage of Dr. Hamilton and his wife, Verónica. Dr. Hamilton, who once considered Father Karadima a father figure and a saint, broke down and told his wife that the priest began abusing him when he was 17. Father Karadima had such influence over him, he said, that the sexual contact continued for more than 15 years.

Without her husband’s knowledge, Mrs. Hamilton told the Rev. Adolfo García, a relative, of the abuses in 2004. Father García spoke with Cardinal Errázuriz about the matter, according to Mrs. Hamilton’s testimony, and in June of that year the cardinal appointed the Rev. Eliseo Escudero to conduct the first investigation into Father Karadima.

In 2006, Father Escudero made his report to the cardinal, stating that he believed “the accusers to be credible and suggesting certain courses of action.”

Yet Cardinal Errázuriz suspended the investigation for more than three years, to wait for new evidence and because he thought the allegations were beyond the statute of limitations, he said in a public letter last April.

In the meantime, the cardinal removed Father Karadima as head of the parish, naming Father Morales in his place, and consulted with the Vatican and two canon law experts. The church investigation finally resumed late last year, and in June the cardinal referred a 700-page file on the matter to the Vatican.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “took it upon itself to review the case” and sent it to a special committee, often set up in complex cases, to “be examined and judged.” He declined to say whether the Vatican knew of the case before 2009, but argued that Cardinal Errázuriz “is extremely cooperative in his relations with the congregation and promptly took the precautionary measures that are normally taken for the accused in such cases.”

Cardinal Errázuriz, 77, who is to retire shortly, said he made mistakes. “We are very clear now that if we were presented with a new case today we would do things much better,” he said in e-mailed responses to questions.

The fallout from the Karadima case has already begun. The Rev. Hans Kast, a priest who left Father Karadima’s parish in 2005 and is now chancellor of the Chilean Catholic Church, testified this year that he had witnessed sexual abuses by Father Karadima.

Beyond that, the Rev. Francisco Walker, president of the Ecclesiastical Tribunal, a Chilean church court, admitted this year that he had made a mistake by leaking Dr. Hamilton’s confidential annulment request to Bishop Arteaga and Father Morales; he resigned from the court in July.

Dr. Hamilton said that during his visit to the clinic, Father Morales had asked for “mercy,” and for him to drop the accusations because Father Karadima could not withstand such a shock. “I was so surprised that I asked him whether he believed me about the abuses,” Dr. Hamilton said. “He said that he did, and that’s why he was asking for mercy.”

Father Morales acknowledged the visit in court testimony, but said he had asked Dr. Hamilton to withdraw the accusations simply because they were not true.

Cardinal Errázuriz also said he had “powerful reasons” for rejecting various requests from Dr. Hamilton for a meeting on the issue in 2005, 2006 and 2009, adding that it “doesn’t mean his testimony had not been received through other official channels.”

In addition to the abuse victims, half a dozen men have testified in court proceedings that Father Karadima’s kisses and sexual advances to his closest followers were widespread and public. One of them, the Rev. Andrés Ferrada, stated that he witnessed these abuses as early as the mid-1990s, “but no one ever did anything about it.”

Alexei Barrionuevo reported from Santiago, Chile, and São Paulo, Brazil. Pascale Bonnefoy reported from Santiago. Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome.

This article was found at:



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  1. Sex abuse victim allegedly sidelined by papal panel

    by Rosie Scammell | Religion News Service February 6, 2016

    ROME (RNS) One of the two victims of clerical sexual abuse serving on a Vatican commission set up by Pope Francis has apparently been sidelined.

    The Holy See on Saturday (Feb. 6) said Peter Saunders, a British Catholic who was abused by Jesuit priests as teenager, is taking a “leave of absence” from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

    Its head, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said Saunders had been asked to consider establishing a victim survivor panel to work with the advisory body.

    Saunders disputes that he is on leave, and takes issue with the Vatican’s view of his service on the commission. At a press conference in Rome, he said he wanted to reflect on his role on the 17-member panel.

    “I have not left and I will not leave my position on the commission,” he said. “I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will only talk to him about my position.”

    Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in Britain, is one of two victims to sit on the advisory body, set up by the pontiff in 2014. The other is Marie Collins, who was raped by a priest as a girl in Ireland.

    Saunders said there was a vote of no-confidence in him backed by all but one member of the commission present at the seven-day meeting, which ends Monday. He said they were unhappy with his outspokenness on pedophilia in the church.

    “A number of members of the commission expressed their concern that I don’t tow the line when it comes to keeping my mouth shut,” Saunders said. “I made clear I would never be part of something that was a public relations exercise.”

    One panel member said Saunders had a different understanding of its purpose, arguing that it should set up policies to protect children rather than advocate for individual cases. “We are deeply dedicated to the protection of children,” the member told RNS, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not a public relations exercise.”

    It is unclear whether Saunders will show up at Sunday’s meeting. He had invited Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean sex abuse victim, to discuss his case with the panel.

    Cruz was abused by convicted pedophile Fernando Karadima, a mentor of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno in Chile, appointed by Francis last year. Barros has denied allegations that he covered up abuse by Karadima and rejected calls for his resignation.

    Speaking alongside Saunders, Cruz called the commission a “disgrace.”

    “They’re trying to say that child abuse is behind us and now it’s recovery time. It’s in no way the case,” he said, describing the church in the southern hemisphere as “a playground for pedophiles.”

    Cruz said he was hoping to deliver letters from clergy and others in Chile to the pope, urging him to remove Barros from his position.


  2. Pope shocks Chile by accusing sex abuse victims of slander

    'It's all calumny. Is that clear?': Sex-abuse scandal dominated Pope Francis's visit

    The Associated Press, January 19, 2018

    Pope Francis accused victims of Chile's most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

    Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are "all calumny."

    The Pope's remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of "penance and prayer" for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn't lacking.

    "As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all," tweeted Barros's most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. "These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty."

    The Karadima scandal dominated Francis's visit to Chile and the overall issue of sex abuse and church cover-up was likely to factor into his three-day trip to Peru that began late Thursday.

    Karadima's victims reported to church authorities as early as 2002 that he would kiss and fondle them in the swank Santiago parish he ran, but officials refused to believe them. Only when the victims went public with their accusations in 2010 did the Vatican launch an investigation that led to Karadima being removed from ministry.

    The emeritus archbishop of Santiago subsequently apologized for having refused to believe the victims from the start.

    Francis reopened the wounds of the scandal in 2015 when he named Barros, a protege of Karadima, as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Karadima's victims say Barros knew of the abuse, having seen it, but did nothing. Barros has denied the allegations.

    'It's all calumny. Is that clear?'

    His appointment outraged Chileans, badly divided the Osorno diocese and further undermined the church's already shaky credibility in the country.

    Francis had sought to heal the wounds by meeting this week with abuse victims and begging forgiveness for the crimes of church pastors. But on Thursday, he struck a defiant tone when asked by a Chilean journalist about Barros.

    "The day they bring me proof against Bishop Barros, I'll speak," Francis said. "There is not one shred of proof against him. It's all calumny. Is that clear?"
    Francis had defended the appointment before, calling the Osorno controversy "stupid" and the result of a campaign mounted by leftists. But The Associated Press reported last week that the Vatican was so worried about the fallout from the Karadima affair that it was prepared in 2014 to ask Barros and two other Karadima-trained bishops to resign and go on a yearlong sabbatical.

    continued below

  3. Bishop not recognized by many priests

    According to a Jan. 31, 2015, letter obtained by AP from Francis to the executive committee of the Chilean bishops' conference, the plan fell apart and Barros was sent to Osorno.

    Juan Carlos Claret, spokesperson for a group of Osorno lay Catholics who have mounted a three-year campaign against Barros, questioned why Francis was now accusing the victims of slandering Barros when the Vatican was so convinced of their claims that it planned to remove him in 2014.

    "Isn't the pastoral problem that we're living [in Osorno] enough to get rid of him?" Claret asked.

    The reference was to the fact that — guilty or not — Barros has been unable to do his job because so many Osorno Catholics and priests don't recognize him as their bishop. They staged an unprecedented protest during his 2015 installation ceremony and have protested his presence ever since.

    'He has just turned back the clock'

    Anne Barrett Doyle, of the online database BishopAccountability.org, said it was "sad and wrong" for the Pope to discredit the victims since "the burden of proof here rests with the church, not the victims — and especially not with victims whose veracity has already been affirmed."

    "He has just turned back the clock to the darkest days of this crisis," she said in a statement. "Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they will not be believed?"

    Indeed, Catholic officials for years accused victims of slandering and attacking the church with their claims. But up until Francis's words Thursday, many in the church and Vatican had come to reluctantly acknowledge that victims usually told the truth and that the church for decades had wrongly sought to protect its own.

    German Silva, a political scientist at Santiago's Universidad Mayor, said the Pope's comments were a "tremendous error" that will reverberate in Chile and beyond.

    Scandal strongly affected Chileans

    Patricio Navia, political science professor at Diego Portales University in Santiago, said Francis had gone much further than Chilean bishops in acknowledging the sexual abuse scandal, which many Chileans appreciated.

    "Then right before leaving, Francis turns around and says: `By the way, I don't think Barros is guilty. Show me some proof,"' Navia said, adding that the comment will probably erase any good will the Pope had won over the issue.

    Navia said the Karadima scandal had radically changed how Chileans view the church.

    "In the typical Chilean family, parents [now] think twice before sending their kids to Catholic school because you never know what is going to happen," Navia said.