Victims recount sexual abuse horrors in Chilean seminary

Victims recount sexual abuse horrors in Chilean seminary

Victims recount sexual abuse horrors in Chilean seminary

Chile's flag is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating Mass marking the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican June 29. At the conclusion of the Mass the pope presented palliums in boxes to dozens of new archbishops from around the world. (Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring.)

ROME – “We need for the Church to understand that those of us who come forth are not the enemy. We want to help the Church clean itself, so there are no other Mauricios drugged and raped in the seminary, so there are no other Sebastians forced to massage a

ROME – “We need for the Church to understand that those of us who come forth are not the enemy. We want to help the Church clean itself, so there are no other Mauricios drugged and raped in the seminary, so there are no other Sebastians forced to massage a bishop so he feels pleasure, so there’re no other Marcelos forced to receive oral sex, and so there’re no other Johns raped by their spiritual directors.”

The stories are real. They belong to Mauricio Pulgar, Marcelo Soto, Sebastian del Rio and a fourth person, who will be described as “John Doe.” He’s asked not be identified because he’s not ready to go public with the allegations, but he represents many others.

Crux spoke with the four victims, and several others, in the past week. All are former seminarians of the Chilean diocese of Valparaiso, some 60 miles from Santiago, the country’s capital. They’ve provided the complaints that they handed to ecclesiastical authorities over a period from 2010 until this June, when a papal representative was in the country to look into Chile’s clerical sexual abuse crisis.

Crux also has obtained a copy of a letter by a Chilean bishop acknowledging that as of 2008, the Holy See had an allegation against a brother bishop. In addition, Crux has also obtained video and audio recordings and an email of one of the priests acknowledging guilt and trying to buy one of his victims’ silence.

The victims in these cases say they will not be silenced, and they won’t tolerate the Church continuing to cover-up for the crimes of abusive priests.

The four victims have several things in common, including the fact that they were all seminarians at the time of the abuses, and all went to the corresponding ecclesial authorities – who, they say, did nothing, beyond guaranteeing that the victims never became priests.

Three bishops have been accused of covering up for abuses that date to the early 1990s: Bishop Francisco Javier Prado, former auxiliary bishop of Valparaiso who would move on to Rancagua; Bishop Santiago Silva, today Chile’s military ordinary and president of the bishops conference, but also a former auxiliary of Valparaiso; and Bishop Gonzalo Duarte, who served as bishop of the diocese from 1999 until June 11, when Pope Francis accepted his resignation.

“When I spoke with Duarte in early June, he told me that he’d heard allegations of more than 70 people against Father Jaime Da Fonseca [who served as a spiritual director], but that he’d never believed them,” John, one of the victims, told Crux.

Survivors don’t come forth, he said, because they don’t want to lose their jobs, but he claims some of them are army generals, others lawyers, doctors or engineers.

Francis accepted Duarte’s resignation on the same day he accepted that of Bishop Juan Barros, one of four bishops mentored by Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most infamous pedophile priest, and Archbishop Cristián Caro Cordero of Puerto Mott, who’s also long been accused of covering up for abusive priests in his diocese.

In Duarte’s case, however, at least one of the survivors interviewed by Crux claimed that his crimes went beyond covering up, to include abuse of power and conscience with a sexual connotation.

Stalking, secrecy and a back massage

Del Rio joined the seminary of San Rafael of Lo Vázquez, in Valparaiso, in March of 1999. During his first three years in the seminary, his spiritual director was Father Mauro Ojeda Videla.

“I felt honored to have his spiritual assistance,” is what the survivor wrote in a 10-page complaint he hand-delivered to Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna in June, when he visited Chile for the second time as a papal investigator.

Yet by the year 2003, when Ojeda was no longer Del Rio’s spiritual director but the rector of the seminary, their relationship changed.

“Father Ojeda began having strange attitudes towards me,” Del Rio wrote. He became extremely severe and publicly critical. He mentioned this changed attitude to both his spiritual director and to another priest, who acknowledged he’d noticed the changes, confirming that the rector “wouldn’t take his eyes off me, chased me, wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Stressed by the situation – he developed a case of psoriasis with which he still struggles – he went to the then-auxiliary bishop of Valparaiso, Silva. The bishop promised to look into the allegations, and in November 2004 the prelate reportedly said, “Father Mauro has affective problems that have been channeled in you.”

When asked by the seminarian to explain what that meant, the bishop is quoted as having said: “Mauro, it would seem, is in love with you, and as such, you must confront him.”  That’s when it dawned on him: the unjustified visits to his room at odd hours and the bipolar attitudes were the actions of a stalker.

“I must say that in those moments I felt profoundly helpless, alone and mistreated,” he wrote.

In the first days of December, he finally challenged Ojeda. When Del Rio asked his superior the reasons behind the treatment he was receiving, Ojeda reportedly said: “I expect for you to be more affectionate with me, that you worry more about me, that you take off my shoes and pet me.”

“I had imagined that he would deny everything and make me look like an ‘insubordinate,’ but on the contrary, with what he said he was openly admitting it and demanding of me a closeness that didn’t correspond, that was improper, against my person, and contrary to the position and authority that he had,” Del Rio wrote.

He confronted the rector in the meeting, saying that the treatment wasn’t appropriate, and the priest burst into tears.

“I simply left the room and left him alone,” Del Rio adds.

In light of the rising number of prelates implicated in cases of sexual abuse and cover-up, many have called for a change in canon law, saying that stronger measures are needed. However, others have argued that it’s not about the law. The problem, they say, is the lack of courageous people willing to apply them.

In the case of Chile, a set of instructions on clerical sexual abuse released in 2003 stipulate that every member of the clergy who knows about situations of abuse should bring them to the competent ecclesiastical authorities, before even proving their veracity.

According to Del Rio’s accounts, auxiliary bishop Silva, upon finding that Ojeda could be stalking a seminarian, didn’t bring it up to the authorities. On the contrary, he asked the young man, a vulnerable adult, to confront his superior.

The 2003 instructions also stipulate that “simply transferring [the accused] cannot be considered as enough of a preventive or medicinal measure.” Yet in Jan. 19, 2005, the seminarians were told, “unexpectedly and while we were on holidays,” that Ojeda was leaving the rectory to become a parish priest in Viña del Mar.

During the following year, Del Rio found support in his spiritual director and a psychologist, “who helped me with trying to leave behind what had happened.”

He finished the seminary in late 2006, and in April of the following year, on Holy Wednesday, a priest told him that the bishop, Duarte, had decided not to ordain him a priest. The following day, the bishop asked Del Rio to accompany him to his apartment, where he denied the information the seminarian had received.

“The bishop knew the traumatic experience I had lived with the rector of the seminary, Mauro Ojeda, he knew of the abuse of power and stalking that I’d gone through and the profound effects they’d produced on me,” the survivor wrote.

Yet, despite it all, when they got to the bishop’s apartment, where they were supposed to talk about the seminarian’s future, the bishop reportedly took off his shirt and asked Del Rio to give him a back massage.

With tears in his eyes for the humiliation, Del Rio wrote that he asked Duarte why he was being asked something he wouldn’t do for his father. “It’s nothing important, I’m just asking you to help me alleviate my pains,” he quotes the bishop as saying.

In August of 2007, Duarte asked the seminarian to go to the diocesan prosecutor to talk about what had happened during his time in the seminary at the hands of Ojeda. Two days after he did so, the bishop called him back to his house and told him he will not be “called to sacred orders.”

Del Rio was forced to present a “resignation letter” from the diocese — which he did, in the hopes of being able to enter seminary for another diocese.

“I am bound to say the truth about these facts, to defend my name and to denounce the abuses of power, sexual harassment, and cover-up to which I was a victim. Those events put an end to an authentic religious vocation,” he wrote in his complaint.

The complaint he presented to Scicluna is an updated version of one he sent to the Vatican, through the papal representative in Chile at the time, Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto, on May 19, 2010. The allegations against the bishop, he wrote, “were never investigated.”

In 2008, Prado, the former bishop of Valparaiso, who at the time was already retired from Rancagua, sent a letter to Del Rio saying he’d learned from credible sources that the former seminarian had made an official allegation against Duarte to the Holy See.

“I must confess that the information hit me very hard, because I never thought you’d take such a delicate measure,” Prado wrote in the letter, dated Oct. 10, 2008.

“It’s true that it’s well within your right to do so, if your conscience dictates, but I question the convenience, justice and opportunity of taking this path. With this step, obviously interpreted as the revenge of a disgruntled former seminarian, you’ve put lock and chain on the possibility of knocking on the doors of another seminary. I believe that, beyond unfair, you were inopportune in making this step.”

Nocturnal skinny-dipping, furtive kisses and rape

Mauricio Pulgar joined the seminary of San Rafael of Lo Vázquez in January of 1993, after he’d turned 17. He’d spent the two previous years in the minor seminary, which is for high school-aged students..

The problems, he told Crux, began at the end of that first month, when the formation director, Ojeda, took the seminarians out of the city for an activity at a weekend home lent to the seminary by a lay Catholic in the nearby town of Olmue. There, Ojeda forced all the seminarians to get naked one night and go into the pool.

“He told us that if we didn’t go in naked, he wouldn’t let us get into the seminary in March,” Pulgar said. “Obviously, we didn’t think it was right, but he began attacking us mentally, saying that if we didn’t get naked it was because we had sexual problems.”

“With great disgust we got in and he started to swim among us. His face was unsettling. But we thought it was a test,” he added. Then in March, “the mental torture and punishments began.”

In his case, he said, he was banned from leaving the seminary and from contacting his mother.

He decided to sleep with his door locked with a key, because he was a witness to seminarians locking themselves with priests in their rooms and receiving presents afterwards.

“Deep down, I was profoundly terrified,” he said.

Among the many things he saw in the seminary was a younger Duarte, before he was made a bishop, forcing men to kiss him on the mouth “without the seminarian’s consent.” He also saw Duarte slapping a student, who today is a priest, in the face.

“And then began the issue of them wanting me to accept being embraced. They started to challenge me for refusing to kiss other men in the face, or for not walking hand-in-hand with the priests. I was harassed because I didn’t have homosexual attitudes. They began telling me that I was the problem, that I was repressed and not allowing for my homosexuality to come out,” he said.

According to Pulgar, he saw other priests beyond Duarte forcing themselves onto seminarians.

Unable to tolerate it, he decided to leave the seminary after the third year. To make sure that he wouldn’t talk to his family about what was going on, he was told he had to go work at a local parish while he continued studying theology. In the parish, he found himself helping a priest who got so drunk at night that he couldn’t say Mass in the morning.

When he went to his superiors, he was transferred to yet another parish. It was during this period, Pulgar said, that what he had seen and found scandalous in the seminary was duplicated by yet another priest, Father Humberto Henriquez.

During the weekends, he said, Henriquez would try to convince Pulgar to stay the night, which he avoided. Yet one day the work they had to do during the day ran late, and the priest asked him to stay, offering him food and a drink. Soon after, the ex-seminarian felt too tired to move, and the priest took him to lie down on a mattress next to his bed.

Today, Pulgar is convinced he was drugged.

“In the middle of the night, I began to think that someone was moving me, and when I was able to open my eyes, Henriquez was raping me. But I couldn’t move. When he saw that I was trying to move my head, he told me that everything was fine, that I was now part of his circle,” Pulgar told Crux.

In his complaint, he said that in subsequent days, when he went back to the parish to be paid for the job he’d been hired to do as a theological consultant, he tried to approach the subject, but Henriquez avoided it. However, the priest did reiterate that he’d now been “initiated,” and that if Pulgar wanted to he could become a bishop.

In 2008, Pulgar confronted Henriquez and recorded their conversation. Crux has had access to that conversation, in which the priest acknowledges his crime.

“Don’t screw me, please. Don’t ruin my priesthood,” Henriquez tells Pulgar in the recording, which has since been presented to the diocese of Valparaiso as evidence. At a different point in the conversation, the priest says he’ll pay for his victim’s psychological treatment, begging to be let off the hook, insisting that “I don’t think the solution is to f… me now.”

Pulgar’s response was, “Humberto, you belong in jail.”

Pulgar said he went to the ecclesial authorities in 1998 and 2000. He asked to speak with Duarte, but he wasn’t allowed. With a few finals left to earn his theological degree, he was censored and banned. In 2012 he made a canonical complaint, including the tape of Henriquez as evidence, but nothing came of it.

After that, he also went to civil authorities, but Henriquez never gave testimony, so the charges were never investigated: the alleged crimes had passed the statute of limitations for prosecution.

The victims who came before

Marcelo Soto joined the same seminary in Valparaiso in 1991, together with 20 other men. That first year, he said, was a good one, with a lot of learning. Towards the end of that year, the beginning of 1992, he met Henriquez.

In 1992, Henriquez was ordained a priest and sent to work in a parish. Soon after, Soto was asked to help in the same church during the weekends.

“It all went well, until that weekend in September,” he told Crux. “I always though that Henriquez was very [odd]. I said so to Duarte, who at the time was my spiritual director and the diocese’s vicar general. But he said that it was all in my head, that I needed to open my mind. I assumed it was me, being prejudicial, and dropped it.”

But on a Sunday in September 1992, after visiting a parish, he arrived at the church Henriquez was living in. Since it was too late for Soto to go home before having to be back in the seminary by 8 p.m., the priest suggested the two watch a movie in his bedroom. As they were walking there, Soto recalled, he asked the seminarian to pick a movie from a drawer full of unmarked VHS tapes.

“I put it in and realized that it was a gay porn movie. Five seconds in, he comes in, and I told him: ‘What is this? I can’t see this because it hurts me and because it’s not what I want,’” Soto recalled as he described their conversation.

Using obscene language that cannot be reproduced, he said the priest became angry, saying that being a priest is “all about the power, the money. You can f**k with men, women, whomever you want. No one would be able to tell you anything.”

Immediately after, he said, he grabbed Soto’s genitals, which froze him in place: “My mind went blank, and with an impressive speed, he pulled my pants down and began practicing oral sex on me.”

“In that moment I reacted, pushed him back, told him I wasn’t one of them and left. With my life turned into pieces, the world turned over. I didn’t know what to do, whom to speak with. I felt pain. I felt shame. I felt fear. I felt humiliated. I was 21 years old,” he said.

When he arrived in the seminary that night, he said, he cried himself to sleep. On Wednesday, Bishop Javier Prado, at the time auxiliary of Valparaiso, visited the seminary, and Soto told him what had happened. The bishop promised to get Henriquez’s side of the story, and then get back to the seminarian.

The following week, Prado, Duarte and Soto had a meeting, in which Duarte said Henriquez had hidden behind an alleged secret of confession and said nothing. However, Prado and Duarte deemed the complaint credible enough that they decided to send Henriquez to a therapist, while warning Soto against talking about it.

“Months went by and Humberto continued to call me, he laughed at me, saying that he’d told the psychologist what she’d wanted to hear, and that he’d moved on with his life,” Soto said.

He left the seminary that year and never went back. Soto said Duarte told him it was for the best, since he “had no vocation to the priesthood.”

Years later, in the early 2010s, Soto found out that Pulgar too had been abused by Henriquez, and decided to reach out to say he believed him:

“I felt so responsible … So responsible … Because if I had done something else, if I had done things differently, maybe Humberto would not have been left free,” Soto said. “And he raped Mauricio … What would have happened to me if I hadn’t spoken up when I did?”

Soto said it took him 20 years to confront what had been done to him, and he’s shared his story ever since because, even though it’s been “painful, I also feel I’m doing good, so that once and for all we put an end to these crimes in the Church.”

Today, he’s no longer a practicing Catholic. He avoids churches when he knows a priest is in there, but when they’re open and empty, he goes in.

“It’s very clear to me … It wasn’t God who let me down, it was the Church,” he said, sharing that to this day his wife believes he would have been a great Catholic priest.

Pulgar too had a negative experience with Da Fonseca during the two years in minor seminary the priest was his spiritual director and confessor. During confession, he said, Pulgar would be sitting down with the priest standing up, and when the time came to grant absolution, according to the survivor, the priest would push his head towards his genitals.

“I resisted, because it wasn’t normal. And for my rebellious attitude, he qualified me as someone with affective problems,” Pulgar wrote in his complaint.

John Doe, a victim who represents many more

“John Doe” joined the seminary of Lo Vazquez in Valparaiso in 2002, when he was 20. During his third year, he began spiritual direction under Father Jaime Da Fonseca, whom he compares to Karadima due both to the extent of his crimes and also his popularity.

At the time John was receiving spiritual direction from Da Fonseca, some 15 or 20 seminarians were doing the same. As he was preparing for a final exam for philosophy, John said, he was visibly tired. Da Fonseca told him to get some vitamins, which he did with his parents’ help.

The fact that the victim had gone to his parents, he said, enraged the priest.

“You’re supposed to share some things with your parents, some with your formators … But with your spiritual director, you have to be an open book,” John quoted Da Fonseca as saying in an interview with  Crux over the phone.

In the second semester of that third year, Da Fonseca again told John that he looked tired, and offered to give him an injection in his parish the following week. When John got to the parish, he was asked to wait in the dining room. Eventually, the priest took him to his room for confession and spiritual direction. When they were done, John recalled, he said he’d give the injection.

Da Fonseca then asked him to take his pants off and lay in bed, head down.

To this day, John can’t speak explicitly of what happened next: “I can’t remember if it was one minute, five, fifteen. All I remember is looking at the door, hoping no one would come in. When he was done, he patted me on the ass and said, ‘That’s it.’”

Asked if something “nonconsensual of a sexual nature” happened, John broke into tears and said, “Yes.”

Today, he said his life after the abuse and until he left the seminary, at the end of the school year, is a blur. He doesn’t remember going to spiritual direction, because, by then, he hated priests. Today, he’s indifferent towards the Church and he’s lost all faith in God.

In June of this year, after many sessions with a psychologist in the past 13 years, he’s been able to confront what happened to him. He said he went to Duarte, right before the bishop was taken out by Francis. According to John, Duarte acknowledged having heard over 70 allegations against Da Fonseca.

For years, John said, Duarte did nothing because he didn’t believe the accusations. Eventually, he restricted Da Fonseca’s ministry, but John claims the priest has said Mass in his nephew’s school after the suspension allegedly went into place.

And then they were heard

In June 2018, a group of survivors from Valparaiso met with papal representatives Scicluna and Spaniard Father Jordi Bertomeu. Del Rio and Pulgar came to the meeting with their complaints in their hands: they didn’t trust the actual papal ambassador in the country to deal with their case.

RELATED: Pope’s investigators in Chile promise justice for abuse victims

Of his meeting with Scicluna, Soto, the third victim, said that it was “extraordinary,” and that the Maltese bishop is the “prototype of the priest I wanted to be.”

Scicluna told Soto that he had a special blessing for him, because the abuse he suffered left him an auto-immune disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis. He had to retire at the age of 45, and in his own words, “this war left many wounded,” including his first wife, whom he married months after leaving the seminary, and the three children they had during their 10 years of marriage.

“For the first time in 22 or 25 years I felt welcomed, respected by someone in the Church,” Soto said. “The most painful thing was feeling vulnerable and stepped-on. This is why I left. Because the Church made me feel like I was disposable, a thing to be used and discarded.”

After the meeting with Scicluna and Bertomeu, the three survivors mentioned in this report spoke with the Chilean press, which garnered a response from the Chilean Bishops’ Conference that claimed that there had never been an investigation against Duarte.

The statement only acknowledged the civil complaint made by Pulgar, but which was ignored due to the statue of limitations. Yet a canon lawyer came to the defense of the survivors, openly challenging the bishops’ conference, saying that he had himself presented allegations against Duarte over “abuse of power, conscience, and sexual harassment,” and that he’d hand-delivered it to the papal embassy in Chile on May 5, 2008.

That priest is Francisco Javier Astaburuaga, who in June was one of nine Chileans who were welcomed by Pope Francis in the Vatican, as part of a second group of survivors he’s met with since coming back from Chile in January.

Seven of those in the second group are priests, two lay people. Of the priests, five were victims and two men who’ve been helping survivors for decades. Of the two lay people, one was a younger brother of Karadima.

RELATED: Brother of pedophile priest urges him to apologize to save his soul

Astaburuaga first heard of one case affecting a seminarian of San Rafael in 2008, when the victim went to him. After speaking with his parents, “whom I’ve known for more than 30 years,” he had no doubt of the credibility of the testimony and the events as they were presented.

“Having clarity that the facts were grave, I promised to help them” and put the family in contact with Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, who was at the time Archbishop of Santiago and “my immediate superior.”

“[The cardinal and I] spoke personally in February of 2008, and in a letter dated April 12, 2008, I sent the pertinent documents,” Astaburuaga told Crux via email.

The cardinal advised him to present the allegations to the papal ambassador, and he did so soon after. In the documents he presented, he made direct allegations in the name of the victim for “abuse of conscience, power and sexual harassment against Bishop Duarte.”

“From that moment on, I never received an answer, and I said so to Pope Francis during my personal encounter with him on June 2, 2018,” he said.

Not long after that meeting, on June 11, the Vatican announced that Francis had accepted Duarte’s resignation. Though seen as a positive step by some of the survivors, all of them shared frustration over the fact that the bishop was allowed to retire, presumably due to his age- he’s over 75, the mandatory age for every bishop to hand in their resignation.

“I wasn’t satisfied by it,” Pulgar said. “For Catholics in Valparaiso, it seems he left because he was old, not because of the crimes he committed.”

Del Rio instead, felt at “ease” when it was announced, because it came on the same day as Barros. Yet, “though it might feel contradictory,” he’s also frustrated at the sensation of Duarte having been allowed to “leave through the front door.”

Duarte was replaced by an apostolic administrator, Bishop Pedro Mario Ossandón Buljevic, until that day auxiliary of Santiago. Since he was appointed, he created a dialogue table with the survivors, to try to address the crisis, yet some see it as an attempt to derail the victims from filing civil lawsuits.

In addition, the group has encountered the bishop once after the first meeting, over a month ago, and during the second encounter Ossandón defended Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago, who’s been summoned by the prosecutors office to testify on charges of having covered up.

“This is not about someone looking at me ugly and I felt offended,” Pulgar said towards the end of his interview with Crux. “No, we’re talking about crimes, cover-ups, abuses.”

Their frustration over the way the resignation was accepted, he added, is why this group of four survivors- and many more- have decided to speak up, again, in the hopes that the Vatican will publicly acknowledge the wrongdoing of not only Duarte, but the priests who’ve abused them too.

RELATED: On Chile, Pope Francis is way past the tip of the iceberg now

Responding to a request from Crux, a spokeswoman for the diocese of Valparaiso confirmed that Father Jaime Da Fonseca is under “restricted ministry,” while Father Mauro Ojeda is still a priest in good standing. The clerical standing of Father Humberto Henriquez, who was transferred from Valparaiso to San Felipe, is unknown.

“We need for the Church to understand that we are not the enemies,” Pulgar said. “On the contrary. We are the ones who want to help the Church free itself from these parasites. So that the children who want to be altar boys can be so without fearing harassment or abuse. There cannot be another Mauricio.”

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