In a decision almost a decade in the making, on Wednesday three Chilean survivors of the country’s most infamous pedophile priest won a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Santiago for alleged cover-up of their abuse.
The Catholic Church will have to compensate each of the three victims with roughly $150,000 for what an appeals court in Chile termed “moral damages.”
The survivors accused former priest Fernando Karadima of having sexually abused them decades ago, and Church leaders of having covered up that abuse. According to Wednesday’s ruling, the Chilean Church “did nothing” after finding out about the allegations against Karadima.
In another section, the ruling says: “Negligence by the Catholic Church had a great impact on the victims when institutional authorities dismissed the allegations instead of considering the possibility of investigating if there was an element of truth.”
The court also found that the institution chose to side with the perpetrator, as if he was the victim of malicious gossip.
The court’s decision overturned an earlier lower-court ruling that had found no evidence of the Church covering up for Karadima.
The three survivors -Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton - met with Pope Francis last year in the Vatican. Since then, every bishop in the country presented his resignation to the pope, who so far has accepted eight, including that of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago on Saturday.
When Francis visited Chile in January 2018, the three survivors were very vocal in their disagreement over the pope’s public defense of Chilean Bishop Juan Barros, who they claimed had covered up for his mentor, Karadima.
The pope would eventually admit he had made “serious errors of judgment” and begin an ongoing clean-up, which included accepting Barros’ resignation from the southern diocese of Osorno.
The Vatican sanctioned Karadima in 2011 to a life of penitence and prayer, and last year Francis removed him from the clerical state - in colloquial terms, “defrocked” him.
Karadima was never sentenced by Chilean civil courts due to the country’s statute of limitations.
To this day, it’s unknown how many people were sexually abused by Karadima. Presumably, the number who were psychologically abused, victims of abuse of power, or who had their consciences manipulated by the priest is even larger.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Karadima led an impressive lay movement from his parish in El Bosque, Chile, with some 40 young men finding their vocation to the priesthood there. Four of these men, who formed his “iron circle,” were later made bishops.
By all accounts, Karadima was a powerful man. The parish he ran was always full of people, with nightly eight o’clock Masses drawing standing-room only crowds.
Wednesday’s ruling also stated that the actions of individual bishops were in fact, performed on behalf of the Chilean Catholic Church, holding the entire institution liable for the cover-up of Karadima’s crimes and the psychological damage it caused to victims.
“If a priest, then, does not observe the proper conduct and inflicts damage on another in the fulfillment of his obligations, the Church is directly responsible for not having properly observed or exercised its duty of due vigilance,” the ruling reads.
As the text notes, after Cardinal Javier Errazuriz first received the allegations against Karadima, the priest remained in El Bosque for another five years, and was only eventually removed for reasons of age. This neglect, the court claimed, put more people in danger.
The Church’s behavior as a whole, the ruling reads, was “negligent” and “illicit.”