Chilean Court Denies Media Report of Verdict in Karadima Lawsuit

La Tercera reported that the archdiocese would be ordered to pay 'moral damages.' The Oct. 22 Chilean government statement denied this report.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile (photo: Courtesy photo, Archdiocese of Santiago via CNA)

SANTIAGO, Chile — The president of an appeals court in Chile has denied reports that the court will order the Archdiocese of Santiago to pay some $650,000 to three victims of a laicized priest at the center of the sexual-abuse scandal in that country.

“There is no ruling; no sentence has been issued, nor is there even a draft decision,” Dobra Lusic, the president of the Court of Appeals of Santiago, said in an Oct. 22 statement.

The lawsuit against the archdiocese was rejected in March 2017. The plaintiffs appealed, and the case was heard by a Chilean appellate court on Thursday.

Chilean newspaper La Tercera reported Oct. 21 that a decision in the case was expected to be issued Monday.

La Tercera reported that the archdiocese would be ordered to pay “moral damages” of 450 million pesos for its efforts to cover up crimes committed against minors. While the verdict would be open to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court, it would reportedly have been the highest judgment rendered against the Church in Chile.

The Oct. 22 statement released by the Chilean government denied this report.

The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit, James Hamilton, Jose Andres Murillo and Juan Carlos Cruz, say they were sexually abused by Father Fernando Karadima over a period of years. The public testimony of the men, especially Cruz, was instrumental in bringing the Chilean abuse crisis to international attention.

The suit argues that Cardinals Francisco Javier Errázuriz and Ricardo Ezzati were responsible for covering up Karadima’s crimes. Cardinal Ezzati is the archbishop of Santiago; Cardinal Errázuriz is his predecessor.

Protests against the promotion of Bishop Juan Barros, alleged to have been one of Karadima’s proteges and protectors, turned the Chilean sexual-abuse crisis into a global concern for the Church. The matter escalated during a papal visit to the country in January 2018, during which Pope Francis initially defended Bishop Barros.

Cruz and other victims traveled to Rome earlier this year to meet in private with the Pope, who expressed public regret for failing to act on the matter earlier and for expressing skepticism about the allegations.

Bishop Barros’ resignation was accepted by the Pope in June.

Karadima, 88, was a highly influential Santiago-area priest who for decades led a lay movement from his parish in El Bosque. He is considered to have personally fostered around 40 vocations to the priesthood.

While Karadima himself has never stood trial for his alleged crimes because of the statute of limitations, the hierarchy of the Church in Chile stands accused of systematically covering up his abuse and of doing the same for other accused priests.

Karadima was found guilty of sexually abusing minors in a canonical process handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2011. Because of his advanced age and poor health, he was ordered to “retire to a life of prayer and penance, in reparation [for his crimes] as well as for the victims of abuse.”

On Sept. 27, Pope Francis laicised Karadima, expelling him from the clerical state in a move the Vatican described as an “exceptional measure” taken in response to the “exceptional damage” done by Karadima’s crimes.

Following a crisis meeting May 15-17, during which the Pope expressed his anger at evidence of systematic attempts to suppress and ignore allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the country, 34 Chilean bishops submitted their resignations.

To date, Francis has accepted seven of them, though no action has been taken against Cardinal Errázuriz, the former archbishop of Santiago and member of the Pope’s “C9” council of cardinals, or his successor, Cardinal Ezzati.