The Ignored Chilean Abuse Case — at a Jesuit High School

As the world’s media focuses on the notorious case of Chilean abuser Father Fernando Karadima, a Jesuit high school in Santiago has also been reprimanded for lack of transparency over a case of historic clerical sex abuse.

Pope Francis meeting 34 Chilean bishops in the Paul VI hall, May 15, 2018.
Pope Francis meeting 34 Chilean bishops in the Paul VI hall, May 15, 2018. (photo: Vatican Media handout)

While Pope Francis meets the bishops of Chile over the next three days to formulate a response to the abuse crisis in the country (see below), a case involving sexual abuse in a Jesuit school for 12- to 17-year-old boys has been making headlines in Chile but receiving little attention outside the country.

The charges relate to abuse perpetrated in the 1980s and 1990s by Father Jaime Guzman Astaburuaga who has been prevented from exercising ministry or being in the vicinity of minors after the Society of Jesus found him guilty in 2012 of a series of abuses.

The abuses included improper touching in the confessional, taking photographs of students in the nude during retreats and displaying the pictures on a school bulletin board, and perpetrating acts of violence against minors. The abuse only became public in January.  

The Colegio San Ignacio at which Father Guzman taught is reputed by local Catholics in Chile to have a history for being “ultra-liberal,” and is located just three blocks away from the conservative and affluent El Bosque parish, once run by Father Fernando Karadima. Found guilty of a series of abuses dating back to the 1980s, Father Karadima is at the center of the abuse crisis in the country, involving charges of cover-up by four of the country’s bishops. 

The abuse cases involving Father Guzman took place about the same time as those perpetrated by Father Karadima, between 1984 and 1997, but only came to the attention of the Society of Jesus in 2010. The Jesuit Provincial in Chile, Father Cristián del Campo, condemned the actions of the priest in January, and told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera the same month that “although many years have passed, we are ashamed to see these facts and realize that neither we, nor the school community, reacted in time.” 

Sixty alumni of the school responded by issuing a statement of their own, saying that although they appreciated Father del Campo’s condemnation of Father Guzman, and his acknowledgement of the “inadequate way” the Society of Jesus had responded to the situation, they believed it was “unjustified” that it took more than 5 years to make his conviction public.

This was especially concerning, they said, as the public dimension of this kind of sanction “plays an essential role in the recognition and reparation of the victims and in the indispensable prevention and protection measures to avoid this type of act.” Keeping a conviction private, they added, is “not appropriate” as it may be “confused with covering up the case.” 

In the interests of total transparency, they called on the Society of Jesus to publish a list of all Jesuits convicted of abuse, showing the dates, reasons and sanctions applied. They also asked to know what happened to the photographs taken by Father Guzman, and urged all students and former students of the Colegio San Ignacio to come forward with any abuse allegations. 

Chilean sources note that the three laymen abused by Father Karadima, and whom the Pope received earlier this month, were young adults aged 18 to 19 when the abuse took place, whereas Father Guzman’s victims were between the ages of 12-17. 


Bishops Meet the Pope

Pope Francis is holding a series of closed-door meetings with the bishops of Chile over the next three days in order to receive the conclusions of a report on abuse in the country by Archbishop Charles Scicluna following his visit to Chile in February. 

The meetings will also “discern short, medium and long-term measures to restore communion and justice,” according to Bishop Fernando Ramos, auxiliary of Santiago and general secretary of the Chilean bishops’ conference. 

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the Vatican said the Pope met with the 34 Chilean bishops in the hall of the Paul VI Hall, and a further meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon, with two more meetings scheduled for Thursday.

“This evening the Pope delivered to each of the bishops a text with some themes to meditate on,” the Vatican said. “From this moment until the next meeting, a time dedicated exclusively to meditation and prayer will be open.” 

Speaking at a press conference in Rome yesterday, Bishop Ramos spoke of the bishops’ “pain and shame” of the abuse. “We must ask forgiveness 70 times 7,” he said, stressing that the request for forgiveness be “truly reparatory.” 

He said the content of the meetings would tackle issues of “abuse of power, abuse of conscience, and sexual abuse, that have occurred in recent decades in the Chilean Church, as well as the mechanisms that led, in some cases, to concealment and serious omissions against the victims.”

Also to be discussed will be the Pope’s invitation to make a “long synodal process of discernment” to understand the responsibilities of those connected with perpetrating the abuse, and to “seek necessary changes so that they are not repeated.”

“In all humility we will listen to what the Pope will tell us,” Bishop Ramos said, adding that this is “a very important moment” for the renewal of the Chilean Church.

Bishop Juan Ignacio González of San Bernardo told reporters that the Chilean bishops see Pope Francis as an example as he has admitted his mistakes, asked for forgiveness, and been willing to meet with the victims. 

In a letter last month to Chile’s bishops, the Pope admitted to making “serious mistakes” in handling the abuse crisis in the country, and asked for forgiveness. He put down the errors especially to a “lack of truthful and balanced information.” 

In 2015, the Pope appointed Bishop Juan Barros to the diocese of Osorno despite many Chilean faithful, including a number of Father Karadima’s victims, accusing the bishop of covering up the abuse by the disgraced priest, and also at times participating.

In a May 12 statement, the Holy See Press Office said “it is fundamental to restore trust in the Church” through good Pastors “who know how to accompany the suffering of the victims, and work in a determined and tireless way in the prevention of abuse.” 

The statement also said the Pope would not be issuing any statements, either during or after the meetings, “which will take place in absolute confidentiality.”