Who Were You, Father Karadima?

The Santiago Times

Monday, 16 January 2012
Written by Hector Soto

(Ed. Note: Fernando Karadima, 81, is the most conspicuous of Chilean priests to have been found guilty of the sexual abuse of minors. Before his unmasking, he ruled over a rich, conservative Santiago parish for more than 40 years. He was famous for shepherding bright young men—including four of Chile’s current bishops—into the priesthood. In February 2011, the Vatican sentenced him to a life of penance and prayer in seclusion.

(Hector Soto is a writer for all seasons. A columnist and film critic for La Tercera, where the following column appeared on Jan. 13, he examines culture in daily broadcasts on Chile’s main classical music station, Radio Beethoven.)

Just when we thought we knew everything about Karadima, another book appears to amaze and appall us. “The Secrets of Karadima’s Rule,” written by Juan Andres Guzman, Gustavo Villarrubia and Monica Gonzalez, is a rigorous investigative report that reads like a novel—for 450 frightening and inflammatory pages.

How is it possible, the reader asks, that such deception and shameless abuse happened unpunished for so long? Apart from the criminal acts the priest committed upon the young boys immediately around him, the book reveals (1) the intellectual atmosphere Karadima imposed on his congregation—superficial, exclusive, anti-woman, secretive, and based on extortion; (2) his command of the flood of money that came to his church; and (3) the way in which he shaped the Santiago archdiocese by getting his fervent disciples into seminary and positions where they made Chilean church policy.

Now, nobody is going to swallow a story of Manichean evil; Karadima must have had amazing skills as an organizer and a fiery charisma that drew people to him. Nothing less could have created the tremendously powerful sectarian apparatus that his parish became. He had a ravenous instinct for power. And he did what he is celebrated for doing: established spiritual study groups, the Union of Pious Priests, strong ties to business benefactors, channels to recruit young males of good family to the priesthood. All to control—or was it to release?—his demons.

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