In Chile, a prominent, revered, charismatic Catholic Priest accused of sexually abusing his male Spiritual Directees.His Catholic community will not believe accusations and react angrily to the accuser/victims, just like in the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel, the Legion and the Regnum Christi from 1970-2010. The case is eerily similar, except that the victims were not his own seminarians.
Chilean Abuse Case Tests Loyalty of a Parish
By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
SANTIAGO, Chile — The Rev. Fernando Karadima is one of Chile’s most respected and influential priests. Some go so far as to call him a “living saint,” who for half a century trained dozens of priests and helped mold thousands of young Catholics from Santiago’s elite.
Now four men who were once devoted followers have filed a criminal complaint alleging that Father Karadima, now 80, sexually abused them in secret for years.
One man said he had reported the abuse to Father Karadima’s superiors in the archdiocese of Santiago as many as seven years ago, but they took no action. All four men filed formal complaints last year with the archdiocesan tribunal and, receiving no response, spoke publicly for the first time this week.
But the allegations have been largely met not with anger at Father Karadima but with outrage at the accusers by many of his parishioners, a prominent conservative politician and church officials. They say a man so respected over so much time could not possibly have abused his followers, though as the news broke this week, a cardinal here confirmed that the church has been secretly investigating claims of sexual abuse leveled against the priest.
The case, in one of Latin America’s most staunchly Catholic countries, comes at a time when the Roman Catholic Church worldwide is under increasing scrutiny over how it handles accusations of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy. It also underscores the church’s continuing vulnerability as new instances of abuses are alleged around the Catholic world — some, as in Chile, against well-known and trusted figures.
Chile’s Catholic Church officially asked for forgiveness earlier this week for priests involved in some 20 cases of sexual abuse against minors.
In this new case, Chilean bishops are confronted with the prospect of weighing their loyalty to a revered, elderly priest against expectations — coming now from the Vatican as well — that they handle abuse cases with greater transparency. Last week the Vatican’s secretary of state and second in command, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, spent six days in Chile. The accusers said that church officials told them that Cardinal Bertone held discussions about how the church should respond to the accusations against Father Karadima. Church officials deny that the cardinal had any formal talks with the accuser’s lawyers or Chilean bishops during his trip.
Like many pulled into Father Karadima’s orbit, James Hamilton said he worshiped him almost from the moment he was chosen at the age of 17 to be part of his Catholic Action youth movement. The priest became his confessor, his spiritual adviser, his father figure.
“He was God’s representative over me,” said Dr. Hamilton, now 44 years old and a gastric surgeon.
For weeks after joining the movement, he shrugged off kisses on the mouth and pats on his genitals from the priest, he said. Then one day, while on a retreat at a seaside town west of Santiago, Dr. Hamilton said, Father Karadima took his intimate play much further.
“I was paralyzed, frozen,” Dr. Hamilton said. “I was destroyed.”
What ensued, according to Dr. Hamilton, was 20 years of sexual abuse at the hands of Father Karadima.
A criminal complaint filed in court here on Wednesday alleges that the priest molested at least four young men — three while they were minors — over at least two decades.
Parish officials and Father Karadima’s lawyer denied the charges this week.
As news broke Wednesday about the allegations, El Bosque, the parish where Father Karadima is based, rallied around the priest. At a packed mass, Bishop Andrés Arteaga briefly expressed solidarity for Father Karadima in a sermon. Outside the modest-looking church with the red-colored walls, most parishioners expressed unwavering support.
“This is the devil’s work,” said María Eugenia Trenova, 65, who said she attended Mass every night. “I have known Father Fernando for 30 years. He has never done anything wrong.”
Alejandro García-Huidobro, a conservative congressman and a former member of Catholic Action, dismissed the claims out of hand, saying the priest was “absolutely innocent,” to rousing applause outside the church.
A disciple of Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit priest and Chile’s first saint, Father Karadima has trained some 50 active priests and five bishops over his long career, said the Rev. Juan Esteban Morales, who leads El Bosque parish, which serves some of Santiago’s most influential families.
Father Karadima reinvented Catholic Action, founded by Father Hurtado as a sort of youth movement to help the poor, and installed it in El Bosque.
Dr. Hamilton was one of them. His great-grandfather founded St. George, one of Santiago’s most prestigious English boys schools. His mother attended Villa María Academy, an exclusive Catholic school for girls.
Dr. Hamilton’s father disappeared from his life for a decade. He found solace and direction in El Bosque during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
“It was the place where all the doubts and anguish about dictatorship dissipated, where they spoke of the power of Pinochet as coming from God,” he said.
Impeccably dressed and with perfectly groomed nails and slicked-back hair, Father Karadima cut an aristocratic figure, appealing to both young and old in Chile’s elite.
In 1983, Dr. Hamilton was invited to join Catholic Action, which he considered to be a great honor. Some 300 young people would gather once a week before Mass to listen to Father Karadima talk of “sainthood,” which he saw as “based on absolute obedience and the humbleness of recognizing our weaknesses and sins.”
The priest offered to be his confessor and spiritual guide. “ I felt like I was being chosen by God,” Dr. Hamilton said.
The priest said that to guide someone, he had to know the person completely. At first most of their confessions were focused on Dr. Hamilton’s sexuality.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean who is now a corporate executive in the United States, said that when he was a 17-year-old seminary student who had just lost his father, Father Karadima also used confession as way to abuse him, touching his genitals and kissing him on the mouth. He said that in confession he had told Father Karadima that he was confused about his sexuality. He said the priest took advantage of that knowledge to intimidate him into remaining silent.
“This man had total power over me,” Mr. Cruz said. “I just wanted to commit suicide but I wasn’t brave enough to do it and I didn’t want to do that to my mother.”
Now 46, Mr. Cruz said he eventually recovered with the support of psychologists, his family and friends. But he said that in Santiago, Father Karadima’s sexual transgressions with his young followers were an open secret, and that it was not hard for his victims to find one another other.
Dr. Hamilton characterized the trauma of the abuse as so great that it continued until he was 38, even after he married, to a woman who regularly confessed to Father Karadima. The couple would go to Mass every night and often be invited to dinner with the priest. Father Karadima would sometimes ask Dr. Hamilton to accompany him upstairs to his room to attend to a nagging medical condition. The sexual contact would continue, even as his wife and children were downstairs, Dr. Hamilton said.
In 2004 Dr. Hamilton filed an official claim of sexual abuse to a church official outside the parish. No one ever responded, he said.
Shortly thereafter, he began intensive psychotherapy. Then last August, Dr. Hamilton and Mr. Cruz and one other former seminary student made an appointment with the tribunal in the archdiocese of Santiago, gathered their courage and filed formal complaints about Father Karadima. Three of the four complainants spoke to The New York Times.
They say they are not asking for money, only that the truth finally come out about the powerful priest.
“We just want this man taken out” of the ministry, Mr. Cruz said.
Alexei Barrionuevo reported from Santiago, and Laurie Goodstein from New York. Pascale Bonnefoy and Tomás Munita contributed reporting from Santiago.