Pope Francis Laicizes Convicted Chilean Abuser Fernando Karadima

The papal decree of dismissal was signed Sept. 27.

Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome in June.
Pope Francis at a general audience in Rome in June. (photo: CNA)

VATICAN CITY — The Pope has ordered the laicization of Fernando Karadima, a Chilean priest convicted in 2011 of the sexual abuse of minors. He had previously been sentenced to a life of prayer and penance.

Pope Francis made the “exceptional decision” to dismiss Karadima from the clerical state, “in conscience for the good of the Church,” according to a Sept. 28 Vatican communiqué.

Papal spokesman Greg Burke told journalists that in removing Karadima from the priesthood, “Pope Francis is acting as a pastor, as a father, for the good of the entire People of God.”

“This is an exceptional measure, no doubt, but Karadima’s serious crimes have done exceptional damage in Chile.”

The papal decree of dismissal was signed Sept. 27 and “came into force automatically from that moment,” the Vatican statement said. The dismissal, which includes the dispensation from all obligations of the priesthood, was communicated to Karadima on Friday.

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.

After a 2010 investigation, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of the sexual abuse of minors in early 2011. A civil case against him had been dismissed due to Chile’s statute of limitations.

Following the 2011 conviction, and citing 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.” At the time, he was also prohibited from any public exercise of ministry.

A priestly association led by Karadima, the Priestly Union of the Sacred Heart, was suppressed within a year of his conviction.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis met with several of Karadima’s victims in one-on-one encounters at the Vatican. These included, Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Andres Murillo.

The Pope also held a crisis meeting with the bishops of Chile May 15-17, during which he expressed his anger at evidence of systematic attempts to suppress and ignore allegations of clerical sexual abuse in the country and called upon them to make institutional changes.

As a result of the meeting, all of the bishops tendered their letters of resignation. Francis has currently accepted seven of them.

The sex-abuse crisis in Chile, although a serious local concern for some time, came to international attention following a visit by Pope Francis to that country in January 2018. Initial focus centered on the ministry of Bishop Juan Barros of Osorno, who was accused of protecting Karadima.

The media scrutiny that followed the Pope’s visit resulted in the scale of the sex-abuse scandal in Chile becoming clear, leading to the crisis meeting between the Pope and the Chilean bishops in May.

Since then, Chilean civil authorities have raided several diocesan chanceries, seizing document and issuing subpoenas to numerous Church officials.