Chilean Priest Found Guilty of Abusing Minors
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO and PASCALE BONNEFOY
The New York Times
February 18, 2011
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — After an internal investigation, the Vatican found the Rev. Fernando Karadima guilty of sexually abusing minors in Chile and ordered him to retire to a “life of prayer and penitence,” the archbishop of Santiago said Friday.
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The Rev. Fernando Karadima shown celebrating Mass in 2006.
The ruling, announced by the archbishop, Ricardo Ezzati, said that Father Karadima, 80, would be relocated to a place where he would have no contact with his former parishioners or “persons that have been spiritually guided by him.”
The accusations by former parishioners against Father Karadima last year stunned Chile, a conservative and predominantly Roman Catholic nation unaccustomed to questioning its priests, especially one as revered as Father Karadima. He had trained five bishops and dozens of priests, acting as a spiritual leader and father figure for young men who later accused him of molesting them.
The decision is a rare case of a powerful church figure being called to account for the charges of sexual abuse that have swept the Catholic world the past few years.
The Vatican decision “is going to mark a before and after in the way the Chilean Catholic Church proceeds in cases like these, or at least it should,” said Antonio Delfau, a Jesuit priest in Santiago, the capital. “From now on, every case of sexual abuse must be treated with meticulous care and not be based on the gut feeling of a given church official.”
For the accusers, including at least four men who said Father Karadima abused them when they were young parishioners, the decision was a long-awaited vindication. One original accuser said the abuse began when he was 14.
“At last the truth was revealed and acknowledged,” said an emotional Juan Carlos Cruz, 47. “This was like having a father who abused you and a mother who slapped you in the face,” he said of the Catholic Church. “Now I feel like this mother has taken me in.”
President Sebastián Piñera reacted to the decision by vowing that his government would “defend children and minors from sexual abuse with all the strength in the world and force of the law.”
Father Karadima has not been prosecuted criminally. A judge investigating the accusations against him closed the case late last year, ruling that there was not enough evidence to charge him.
An appeals court in Santiago is still deciding whether to reopen the criminal investigation. It remains unclear whether the Vatican’s decision will prod the Chilean authorities to do so.
The Vatican ruling announced Friday said that Father Karadima was subject to “lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons.”
In consideration of his age, the Vatican deemed it appropriate “to impose on the accused his retirement to a life of prayer and penitence, also in reparation to the victims of his abuses,” said the ruling, read by Archbishop Ezzati.
If he violates the conditions of the ruling, Father Karadima could face stricter sanctions, including removal from the priesthood, the archbishop said.
Juan Pablo Bulnes, Father Karadima’s lawyer, said the priest maintained his innocence and would appeal the Vatican’s decision. He said the priest, respecting the ruling, had already retired to a religious convent in Santiago, away from anyone in his El Bosque parish.
The Chilean Catholic Church referred the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last June, sending a 700-page investigative report to the Vatican.
Last month, the Vatican quietly issued its ruling and informed the Chilean church on Jan. 16. Archbishop Ezzati said he notified Father Karadima the next day and immediately identified a new residence for him.
Alexei Barrionuevo reported from São Paulo, and Pascale Bonnefoy from Santiago, Chile.