SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean authorities raided the headquarters of the Catholic Church’s Episcopal Conference on Tuesday as part of a widespread investigation into sex abuse committed by members of the Marist Brothers order in the South American country, prosecutors said.
The raids by investigating prosecutors and Chile’s equivalent of the FBI took place at one of the most important buildings of the Chilean Church in the capital of Santiago. Investigating prosecutor Raul Guzman, who confirmed the raid, is probing more than 35 accusations of abuse committed against former students at schools run by the Marists, who are religious brothers, not priests.
“The impunity of the Chilean hierarchy has ended. In Chile, we’re seeing what happens when the Catholic Church is treated as an ordinary corporate citizen,” said Anne Barrett Doyle of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org.
“Prosecutors in Chile have raised the bar for civil authorities in other countries. The children of Chile will be safer, survivors more likely to find justice, and the Church ultimately stronger.”
Church authorities had no immediate response to requests for comment.
The Marists operate in dozens of countries around the world. The scandal in Chile came to light in August 2017, when the order 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. Victims have also filed a criminal complaint against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six Marists. In that complaint and in interviews with The Associated Press, they have recounted numerous abusive encounters.
Pope Francis sent the Vatican’s leading expert on clerical sex abuse, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to investigate allegations against Bishop Juan Barros, who was accused by victims of witnessing their abuse and ignoring it, as well as allegations of abuse involving the Marist Brothers, Salesian and Franciscan orders.
After receiving the report, the pope denounced a “culture of abuse and cover-up” in Chile’s Catholic Church and said he was ashamed that neither he nor Chilean Church leaders truly ever listened to victims as the abuse scandal spread.
Last week, however, victims were disappointed when Francis said in a letter to the Chilean Church’s Episcopal Conference that he was “impressed by the reflection, discernment and decisions” taken by bishops after they recently met to discuss the avalanche of scandals.
Chilean prosecutors also recently summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to appear in court and testify about the alleged cover-up of years of abuse.
In May, 31 bishops offered their resignation to the pope. So far Francis has accepted the resignations of five.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao contributed to this report from Buenos Aires, Argentina.