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Chile court orders Catholic Church to compensate sexual abuse victims

An appeals court in Chile ruled Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Church must pay compensation to three victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

Church must pay $150K US to each of Rev. Fernando Karadima's 3 victims

Rev. Fernando Karadima sits in court in Santiago, Chile, in November 2015. A court in the county's capital ordered the Catholic Church to pay compensation to three victims of Karadima. (Luis Hidalgo/Associated Press)

An appeals court in Chile ruled Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Church must pay compensation to three victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious pedophile priest.

The court in the Chilean capital said that the church must pay about $150,000 US each to Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton for "moral damage." It also overturned a lower court ruling that found no proof of a church coverup.

The ruling could prompt hundreds of other people who have reported clerical sexual abuses or coverups by the Chilean Catholic Church to seek compensation.

"Today, the Chilean state puts on the record that all institutions are guarantors and should protect the rights of its citizens. And that no one, however powerful they might be, can abuse and cover up sexual abuses with impunity," Hamilton told reporters reading from a joint statement by the three victims.

He said the ruling is important, "not only for us in particular, but for the hundreds or thousands of victims of abuse committed by priests and religious members who have suffered the lack of justice, revictimization, abandonment, complete loneliness, and betrayal to their original commitment of care and accompaniment."

The office of the Santiago Archbishopric said in a statement that it was in "consent" with the court's decision, and that it "hoped that the ruling will contribute to the process of reparation of the pain suffered by Fernando Karadima's victims."

The ruling said that church officials had harmed victims by dismissing their complaints of abuse rather than investigating them.

Victims, from left: Juan Carlos Cruz, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo speak to reporters in Rome in May 2018. (Domenico Stinellis/Associated Press)

The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima, a powerful preacher close to Chile's elite, to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his sex crimes, and Pope Francis defrocked him last year.

During a 2018 trip to Chile, the Pope initially dismissed allegations that a bishop had covered up Karadima's crimes, but he later acknowledged "grave errors in judgment" and asked all active Chilean bishops to offer their resignations.

Chilean abuse survivors had long accused Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati and his predecessor in the Chilean capital, Cardinal Javier Errazuriz, of protecting predator priests and discrediting victims.

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The ruling on Wednesday named them both. The Pope removed Errazuriz last year from his informal cabinet and he replaced Ezzati on Saturday.

"This helps all of us who have lived through this horror, and that's why we're happy," Cruz said about the ruling on Twitter.

Part of the evidence that led to the ruling included a 2009 letter from Errazuriz to the apostolic nunciature that showed that he was aware of the abuse.

The scandal first erupted in 2009 when victims publicly accused Karadima of molesting them for years. Errazuriz initially shelved an investigation.