14 priests linked to Chile sex abuse stripped of duties

File photo showing a priest at a Cathedral in Santiago, Chile, on May 18, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

SANTIAGO (AFP) - Fourteen priests involved in a sex abuse scandal in Chile - which has rocked Pope Francis's papacy - were defrocked on Tuesday (May 22).

"Fourteen priests no longer are allowed to carry out their duties... These priests have taken part in actions that may be civilian crimes as well as within the church," the bishop's office in the city of Rancagua said.

Nicknamed "the Family", the group of priestly offenders commited sex abuses with young people including minors, churchgoer Elisa Fernandez told Channel 13 last week.

A priest said in that report aired last week that the group formed a sex abuse ring a decade ago, and engaged in sex acts with no regard for whether their victims were minors or of age.

In addition, offenders used social media to control their interactions with victims and used church money for trips abroad as well as expensive car services with young friends, the report added.

Just Friday, 34 Chilean bishops announced their resignation over the child sex abuse scandal.

The striking announcement came after the pontiff summoned the bishops over the scandal.

Several members of the Chilean church hierarchy are accused by victims of ignoring and covering up child abuse by Chilean paedophile priest Fernando Karadima during the 1980s and 1990s.

On Thursday evening, Francis promised "changes" to the Chilean church to "restore justice" in a short declaration to the bishops, which was made public.

But in a confidential 10-page document leaked Friday by Chilean TV channel T13, the Argentine pope goes much further in his indictment of the Chilean Church.

The letter - handed to the bishops at the start of their meetings with Francis - evokes "crimes" and "painful and shameful sexual abuse of minors, abuses of power and conscience by ministers of the Church." It qualifies the removal of certain prelates from their roles as necessary but "insufficient," calling for "the roots" that allowed such abuse within an "elitist and authoritarian" Chilean Church to be examined.

Some analysts note that Chile's long tradition of having the church not subject to civilian law lent itself to impunity and cover-ups.

The damning letter also outlines findings of an investigation, ordered by Pope Francis, into the abuse allegations.

It says the probe found senior church officials had destroyed proof in cases of sex abuse and that certain members of the clergy who had displayed immoral behaviour had been transferred to other dioceses after attempts to "minimize" the gravity of their actions.

Grave accusations "were superficially qualified as improbable," the letter says, denouncing bishops for their "terrible negligence in protecting children." In April 2002, Pope John Paul II summoned 13 American cardinals and bishops to Rome after a huge paedophilia scandal within the clergy.

Following another abuse scandal in Ireland in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI also organised a meeting of Irish prelates at the Vatican in February 2010.

Argentine-born Francis said it must not happen again on his watch.

Francis himself has gotten caught up in the tragedies when he defended Chilean bishop Juan Barros - accused of covering up Fernando Karadima's abuses.

Francis has apologised to the victims, three of whom he recently received at the Vatican, and admitted he had made "grave mistakes" after reading the 2,300-page report on the abuse in Chile.

Since 2000, about 80 Roman Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.