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Chilean court orders Catholic Church to compensate victims

Chilean court orders Catholic Church to compensate victims
In this May 2, 2018, photo, Juan Carlos Cruz, from left, James Hamilton and Jose Andres Murillo, attend a news conference at the Foreign Press Assn. in Rome after meeting Pope Francis in Vatican City. (Domenico Stinellis / 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 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 cover-up.

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

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

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.

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, Francis initially dismissed allegations that a bishop had covered up Karadima's crimes, but the pope 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.

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

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.

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