Published:Monday | January 22, 2018 | 12:52 AM
Father Fernando Karadima appeared to be a really cool guy. A very popular figure in Chile, he was a spiritual leader and father figure for many young men in Santiago, the nation’s capital. Based in the parish Parroquia El Bosque, he mingled with the rich and famous, including some of the city’s most influential families. According to The New York Times, “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.”
But there was a dark and sinister side to Karadima. In 1984, a group of parishioners filed a report about his improper conduct to Archbishop Juan Francisco Fresno, but, according to a court statement by one of the parishioners, the letter was “torn up and thrown away”.
In 2003, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa was informed by parishioner José Murillo about Karadima’s alleged abuses. However, the cardinal’s response was to tell Murillo that he was praying for him. No investigation was opened. It was not until 2004, twenty years after the first reports were made, that the first investigation into Karadima’s perverted activities was opened by the Catholic Church. Two years later, the investigator stated that he found "the accusers to be credible” and suggested that action be taken. Unfortunately, the cardinal stopped the investigation for more than three years, claiming to be waiting for more evidence and because he thought the allegations were beyond the statute of limitations.
In April 2010, a civil criminal complaint was filed by four men who claimed to have been abused by Karadima. But after seven months of conducting the probe, the claims were dismissed by the court, ruling that there was not enough evidence to charge him. The accusers’ lawyer, Juan Pablo Hermosilla, claimed that the state prosecutor had gathered testimony from dozens of witnesses that “established a pattern of decades of abusive behaviour”, but that the judge, Leonardo Valdivieso, never gave the parties access to the investigation report until the day he closed the case, and withheld testimony and other evidence that could have advanced it.
The judge also dismissed the case without having Father Karadima face his accusers, as they had requested, after defence lawyers presented the court with medical certificates asserting that the priest could have a heart attack if forced to do so.
Finally, in 2011, after several years of a Catholic canonical investigation, the Vatican found Karadima guilty of sexually and psychologically abusing minors and sent him to retire to a "life of prayer and penitence" and to "lifelong prohibition from the public exercise of any ministerial act, particularly confession and the spiritual guidance of any category of persons”.
Karadima had trained 50 priests and four bishops. One of those bishops, Juan Barros Madrid, who moved in his inner circle, figured prominently in the scandal, as victims of abuse claimed that he knew about Karadima’s abusive behaviour, but did nothing about it. One victim claimed that Bishop Barros even witnessed him being abused.
Pope Francis had vowed to take abuse of children by clergy seriously, even setting up a Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014. Last week, while visiting Chile, Francis expressed “pain and shame” over the abuse scandal and begged for victims’ forgiveness, meeting and weeping with survivors of abuse.
However, he revealed his true colours when he made statements in support of Barros. In an about-turn, Francis strongly defended him, saying, “The day someone brings me proof against Bishop Barros, then I will talk. But there is not one single piece of evidence. It is all calumny! Is that clear?”
This attitude is in keeping with the Pope’s behaviour in 2015 after he appointed Barros as bishop of Osorno, in southern Chile. There was widespread opposition to the move, with even some church leaders in the country calling for Barros to resign. But later that year, Francis was captured on video telling a group of tourists at Vatican City that the people who protested the appointment were “dumb” and “judging a bishop without any proof”.
Francis’ hypocrisy is stunning. His comments reek of insensitivity and are a slap in the face to abuse survivors, raising questions about his professed commitment to repairing the damage from sexual abuse scandals and being more vigilant in dealing with the chronic problem in the Church. Even Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of the Pope’s key advisers on clergy sexual abuse, said that Francis’ defence of the bishop was "a source of great pain" for survivors.
Juan Carlos Cruz, the accuser who claimed that Barros witnessed him being abused, was incensed. He tweeted, "As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all," adding, "These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty."
I endorse Cruz’s sentiments. The Pope’s response serves as a reminder why many victims of abuse remain silent: They fear being disbelieved, dismissed, ridiculed or even punished.
Fyah pon Rome!
Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.