The Karadima Scandal: the Vatican Model of Justice

Vatican insider
July 4, 2011

The depths of Chile

Fernando Salvador Miguel Karadima Farina forged an impecable ecclesiastical career. Born in August 1930, he dedicated a great part of his presbyteral ministry to the training of clergy, always connected to the exclusive parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on the Avenida el Bosque in Chile.

Ordained as a priest in 1958, his personality and charisma allowed him to slowly assume a growing power, not only in the parish but also in the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart, a local seedbed of vocations. In the 1980s he took control of the Bosque chapel, which he converted into an intensive pastoral center.

Dozens of priests came to work with him, including the bishops Juan Barros Madrid (Military Vicar) and Andres Arteaga (Auxiliary Bishop of Santiago de Chile). Among his followers his “reputation for holiness” was indisputable, though he was still alive. His work for the Chilean church was exemplary. But the real story was different: abuse of power, psychological manipulation, and pederasty.

On 22 June, the current Archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, informed Fernando Karadima that the Holy See had decided to reject his appeal of a sentence against him for sexual abuse of minors.

In a ten-page document (dated 18 March) the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered the priest to retire to a life of penance and prayer, prohibited him for life from publicly exercising his ministry, spiritual direction, or confession, from having contact with members, and from holding a position at Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart.

The statement, signed by Cardinal William Joseph Levada (Prefect) and Luis Francisco Ladaria (Secretary), was the definitive conclusion of the first canonical process that applied, through to their logical consequences, the new regulations on “Delicta graviora” (serious crimes committed by priests) approved by the Pope in July of 2010.

The “Karadima scandal” became an emblem of Vatican justice for many reasons: because the Doctrine of the Faith took the first accusations (received in 2010) seriously, regardless of the depth of ecclesiastical involvement; because a thorough investigation was conducted and a heavy sentence was handed down even though the civil system had closed the case.

In fact, Chilean judges were forced to reopen their investigation after the Archbishop of Santiago announced publicly, on 18 February, the guilty verdict against Karadima handed down by the Holy See. That unprecedented announcement, delivered at a press conference and nationally televised, set an unheard-of precedent.

Rome had explicitly asked Ezzat to publicize the sentence, though it was still subject to appeal. The priest was immediately stripped of his duties and moved to a monastery in the Chilean capital. Those around him received the news with shock, anger, and indignation, while the accused maintained his declaration of innocence.

The Vatican decided to conduct an administrative trial against Karadima for two reasons: the clear evidence of his guilt and his advanced age (80). The priest received treatment similar to that of Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ and abuser of minors. In both cases an ecclesiastical trial was forgone to avoid having the accuser die without being sentenced, since a criminal trial, with its many appeals, takes up time and human resources.

For the Chilean case, the Doctrine of the Faith took more precautions and designed a committee of three delegates who studied the case, unlike the usual one delegate who is responsible for consulting with specialists before recommending a sentence. This did not deter Karadima’s supporters from filing an appeal before the Congregational Plenary, which turned it down, reaffirming the guilt of the accused.

With the vote of the Congregation, the Holy See closed the ecclesiastical chapter of the scandal, but the political chapter remains open. Using diplomatic channels, the Chilean judge has requested from Rome documents used in the canonical investigation. The Vatican Secretary of State must decide, in the next few weeks, whether to respond positively or negatively.

Another result of the Vatican's action was the public apology of the Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who asked for pardon from the victims for not believing them when they made their accusations against Fernando Karadima in 2004.

“Now I understand that, especially for the first two accusers, seeing this charge go unanswered caused them suffering. It is a suffering that I did not wish to cause in any way, and for this I ask forgiveness,” he said. Meanwhile, civil justice is also taking its course.


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