Even as Pope Francis apologised for his failures in connection with Chile‘s most famous case of clerical sex abuse, the Pope and that country’s deeply discredited Catholic Church are under mounting pressure to address another, even bigger sex scandal.
The blooming scandal of the Marist Brothers, a congregation dedicated to education, has not yet drawn great attention worldwide – unlike allegations that a bishop covered up the crimes of a paedophile priest, Fernando Karadima.
Francis recently spent several days at his Vatican hotel in talks with three of Karadima’s victims; this week he is meeting with all of Chile’s bishops to address the crisis that has implicated several church leaders and religious orders.
In the Marist case, the accusations of abuse are many
“It’s a situation of systematic abuse where there are multiple abusers throughout time, within and outside the congregation,” Juan Pablo Hermosilla, an attorney for some of the victims told the Associated Press. He said that there at least 20 cases of abuse, but that there could be more. “It’s an unprecedented situation.”
Marists are religious brothers, not priests; they operate in dozens of countries around the world.
The scandal came to light last August, when the group revealed that at least 14 minors were abused from the 1970s until 2008 by Abel Perez, a brother who worked at two of the order’s schools. Then it acknowledged that another Marist sexually abused five students. The Marists opened a canonical investigation and launched legal action against Perez. But many Chileans were outraged when the order admitted that Perez had confessed in 2010 – seven years earlier.
Now, victims have filed a criminal complaint against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six Marists. In that complaint and in interviews, they have recounted numerous abusive encounters.
Jaime Concha said he was 12 years old when he was raped by Perez during a boy scout field trip in the 1970s. He said Perez blamed the abuse on him, saying: “Don’t worry, I’ve already asked God to forgive your sin.”
Gonzalo Dezerega, 55, said he was 10 when Perez raped him at the school’s locker rooms and showers.
Despite the order’s acknowledgment that Perez confessed, his lawyers continue to maintain his innocence.
In an indication of just how broad the scandal is, the first priest the Marists appointed to conduct a preliminary investigation was removed after Chilean media reported he himself had been accused of sexual misdeeds.
The Chilean sex scandals have been a debacle for the Pope. When he visited the country in January, he said that until he saw proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up Karadima’s sex crimes, accusations against Barros were “all calumny”. He later sent the Vatican’s sex crimes investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to investigate Barros.
After receiving Scicluna’s 2300-page report, the Pope backtracked and apologised for having discredited the victims.