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Bishop's rape defense outrages Chileans

Chile | Church & Society

[Leer en español.]

This week Chile was confronted with the news that 41.6% of the country's young people consider Catholic priests to be a danger. 


The study was carried out by Fundación Para la Confianza (Foundation for Trust), an NGO founded by José Andrés Murillo.  Last year, he and three other professionals accused well-known priest Fernando Karadima of having abused them as children when they were members of the same parish.  Karadima was protected by the Catholic hierarchy for a time, yet the Vatican still found him guilty in a hasty trial that Chile's bishops failed to initiate themselves.

The youth opinion poll graphically illustrates the state of affairs in a church that, along with parishes in other parts of the world, acted as an accomplice in thousands of cases of abuse. 

The survey results were published on the eve of the trial of Francisco Valenzuela, ex parish priest of Putaendo, a rural community 100km outside Santiago. Valenzuela faces allegations from two individuals claiming he abused and raped them beginning in 2003, when the accusers were 11 and 13 years of age and were acolytes in Valenzuela's former church.  Valenzuela had since been removed from his position at the church.

The case received a great deal of coverage this week because Manuel Camilo Vial (pictured), the bishop of Temuco (a city 800km south of Santiago), was called as a witness.  Vial was forced to testify because he was the bishop of San Felipe in the 1990s, and Putaendo came under his jurisdiction. 

In 1990, Valenzuela was accused of raping and impregnating a 13-year-old girl.  Vial told the judge that, upon learning what had taken place, he interviewed Valenzuela and transferred him to another parish in the south of Chile in order to provide for his "treatment and care".  A few years later, Valenzuela returned to Putaendo to resume his role as parish priest.    

There are two key elements that drew the attention of the press in the bishop's testimony. 

First, when asked why he did not contact authorities once he learned of the rape, the bishop said, "At that time there was no clarity.  It should have been the parents, it seemed to me, who ought to have filed charges with the authorities.  I was not aware it was my duty to file charges."

According to Chilean law, all citizens bear the legal obligation to report crimes they witness.  If they do not, they may be charged as accomplices to the crime.  As such, the priest may not argue that he did know that he was obligated to report an illicit act, especially one so grave. 

The second issue was even more shocking: "In the 90s, these issues were handled carefully.  I was aware that there had been a rape...She was 13 or 14 years old, but physically she was very mature.  She was a person who was already very developed.  She was not a little girl," the bishop testified.

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