March 8, 2019

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Ricardo Ezzati covered up sex abuse by priests

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile’s Roman Catholic church, already the target of Vatican sanctions, was being shaken Tuesday by yet another allegation of priestly abuse and high-level cover-up.

Daniel Rojas Alvarez, a 43-year-old indigent man, appeared on a state television broadcast Monday night saying that a priest at the Santiago Cathedral had drugged and raped him in 2015. He said Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati had given him money when told of the attack and told him not to report it.

“The case is terrible, unacceptable,” said Fernando Ramos, secretary-general of the Chilean bishop’s conference, at a news conference Tuesday ahead of his trip to the Vatican for a worldwide meeting of bishops on preventing sexual abuse.

The Santiago archbishopric acknowledged in a statement that it had received a complaint against the priest, Rigoberto Rivera, in the summer of 2015 and said he had been forbidden to celebrate public Mass since last year. His attorney, Sandra Pinto, denied the allegations.

A series of earlier cases investigated by the Vatican led Pope Francis last year to request all 31 active bishops to offer their resignations, complaining of “a culture of abuse and cover-up.”

Ezzati, who offered his resignation in 2017 on turning 75, has denied committing any cover-ups of sexual abuse.

Government prosecutors are also investigating Ezzati on allegations he covered up abuse committed by his top deputy, and they have raided the Santiago ecclesiastical court and other church buildings looking for evidence. Another former bishop, Juan Barros, was also questioned last year by prosecutors.

A weeping Rojas Alvarez, who has been living in the streets, told Channel 7 that he had gone to the cathedral seeking help to buy medicine for his ailing daughter.

He alleged that Rivera had given him water that left him feeling weak, then kissed him and raped him.

“I began to cry, to wake up. A terrible situation of total vulnerability,” he said.

He said he reported the attack to Ezzati, and said the cardinal asked him to pray for the priest, gave him the equivalent of $45 and asked him not to tell anybody what had happened.

In addition to a criminal complaint, Rojas has filed a suit seeking the equivalent of about $530,000 from Rivera and the archbishopric. The bishop’s office is also facing demands for similar sums from three victims of Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious pedophile priest.

The archbishopric said it had first received another complaint about Rivera in 2011, but didn’t investigate because “it was not possible to contact the complainant.”

It said Rivera received canonical punishment in September 2018, but said it would start “an exhaustive review to clarify” all of the cases. He is allowed to celebrate Mass only in private, accompanied by a person over 50, and to have no meetings with youth.