ROME – Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, Chile, and the archdiocese he leads are being sued for $500,000 for covering up a case of rape that allegedly took place in a bedroom of the local cathedral.
The accused priest was said to have a “practically out of control” homosexual lifestyle and faces allegations of abusing at least one minor. He was suspended from ministry in 2016.
A 2015 preliminary report from the church of Santiago established that Father Tito Rivera had a “habitual homosexual behavior, seriously immoral and practically out of control.”
In 2015, Daniel Rojas, 40 at the time, went to the cathedral looking for financial help to buy medicine for his daughter. Instead, according to Rojas, Rivera took him upstairs, through a long corridor, into a bedroom, gave him a glass of water, and soon after, Rojas said he had no control over his body.
The criminal complaint, published by Chilean media outlet Radio Bio Bio, includes a graphic description of what allegedly happened after the priest returned from the bathroom in his underwear and raped Rojas. The archdiocese found the original allegation, filed in 2015, days after it happened, to be credible.
Rojas’s partner didn’t believe him, accused him of having a gay affair, and kicked him out of the house. He tried to get psychological help from the Church, but said he had doors closed in his face, with priests accusing him of lying, and ever since has been living on the streets.
In 2016, he went back to the cathedral when Ezzati was hearing confessions, and told him what was done to him. The cardinal reportedly gave him a hug, told him to pray for Rivera, and had another priest give him the equivalent of $50.
The man heading a preliminary investigation by the Church in 2015, Father Walker Acuña, determined in July of that year that the testimony of Rojas was “credible,” and that his wasn’t the only complaint against Rivera.
One of Rivera’s altar boys, trying to clear his name after he was accused of stealing a chalice, presented photos and videos of the priest having sex with eight other men, one of them a minor, in the bedrooms located on the second floor of the cathedral.
Another witness, also a priest, said that in 2011 a mother had come forward accusing Rivera of “sexually initiating” her son when he was 16.
The photos and videos presented by a man identified as “F” were received by Acuña and Father Óscar Rivera Soto. Soto is the former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago, and was removed from his post in early 2018, after confessing that he had sexually abused some of his nephews, all of them minors.
According to a statement released by the archdiocese on Tuesday, after the news of the suing against Ezzati were made public by the media, the church first received an email against Rivera in 2011 for abuse of minors, but after investigating the allegations, they couldn’t “reach the person who did the complaint.”
The statement also said that a diocesan investigation was opened in June 2015, and that in Sept. 2016 the local church requested the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that only deals with allegations of abuse against priests when they involve minors, for further instructions on what to do.
It was only then, at the suggestion of the CDF, that the archdiocese began an actual canonical investigation into Rivera, who confessed to having had gay relationships. Ezzati gave him a 10-year suspension from ministry. However, less than a year later he was authorized to celebrate weddings.
It’s unclear why, if the allegation of abusing a minor was also deemed credible, he’s been only temporarily removed from ministry, but not from the priesthood.
A dossier on Rivera compiled by the archdiocese includes not only the allegations made by Rojas, but also several other witness statements, including that of the dean of the cathedral, Monsignor Juan de la Cruz Suarez. He’s the man picked by Ezzati to replace him in reciting the Te Deum last year, after the cardinal decided to step down from the celebration after being summoned by the state prosecutor investigation for allegations of abuse cover-up.
De la Cruz Suarez confessed that he “knew that [Rivera] used the bedroom of the second floor to bring young men in,” and that he’d advised the accused priest to “be careful,” and that he was the one who gave Rivera the keys.
“Rivera was always surrounded by personal altar boys, young men from middle-lower class, and that the father of one of them had accused Rivera on Facebook of abusing their son. He says that at the time the archbishop [Ezzati] ordered him not to give work to Tito Rivera in the cathedral,” the file says.
In mid-2018, after a series of scandals exploded in the Chilean Church, Rojas decided to find out what had happened with his allegation.
He’d never been informed that because of him, Rivera was removed from ministry, even though the archdiocesan complaints office had his e-mail. After asking about his case and being sent back with no answer, he received three emails, all of which clearly stated that his allegation was found credible.
In 2018, he decided to go to civil authorities and sue Rivera and the archdiocese, naming Ezzati. The cardinal has been called in to testify more than once on other cases, but so far has avoided doing so.
Speaking with TV network 24 Horas, Rojas said, “I don’t need for them to buy me a plane ticket to meet the pope, nor to stay in the best hotel in Rome. I’m not looking for millions, the only thing I’m looking for is truth and justice.”
Sandra Pinto, Rivera’s lawyer, said that it’s “impossible” to believe that the priest could have abused the man, as he’s “weak,” and already in 2015 he was “in very bad condition, coming in and out of the hospital.”
She also challenged the truthfulness of the allegation, saying that a person who lives in the streets is “normally a person with several mental problems.”
However, the lawyer did acknowledge that Rivera could be defined as a person who had “some homosexual behaviors and also heterosexual ones, as do the majority of priests.”
An association of lay people in the capital, called Laicos de Santiago, has demanded that Ezzati be removed from his position as archbishop. He has presented his resignation to the pope twice: When he turned 75 three years ago, and again last year, when every Chilean bishop offered their resignation en masse during a visit to Rome in May. During that encounter, Pope Francis gave them a text in which he accused them of cover-up, destroying evidence, and generally mismanaging allegations of clerical sexual abuse.
The spokesperson of Laicos de Santiago, Osvaldo Aravena, said that Ezzati has been the one “leading, because when he had the opportunity of handing in information, he remained silent.”
“I believe that the only thing left to do: Let justice be done, and, in effect, those who’ve abused and covered up these grave crimes pay with prison.”