Chile Catholic church hit by abuse claims, bomb

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile's Roman Catholic Church was shaken by a series of dramatic televised interviews of men alleging they were abused by a respected former priest, followed hours later by a bombing that damaged a church's facade.

Four men detailed their claims — which also are the subject of police and church investigations — on a state channel Monday night. Now adults, they said the alleged abuse by Father Fernando Karadima began about 20 years ago when they were between 14 and 17 years old, in his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in an elegant neighborhood of Santiago.

Dr. James Hamilton, now a surgeon, said between sobs that the abuse began with an act of masturbation when he joined the priest's Catholic youth group and continued for years.

Three others, including seminarians who saw Karadima as their spiritual leader, made similar allegations.

Chilean church officials said earlier this month that 20 of the country's priests have been accused of sex abuse, including five who were convicted.

Archbishop Francisco Javier Errazuriz of Santiago, while asking the faithful for their understanding, acknowledged Sunday that he had suspended a church investigation of Karadima in 2005. The probe was renewed last year.

Karadima, now 80 and retired but still living in the church residence, has not responded publicly to the allegations. He is strongly defended by other bishops and members of his church.

Jose Manuel Ossandon, mayor of the neighboring town of Puente Alto, says Karadima is being made a sacrificial lamb by the church, an idea that prompted an angry response from the president of Chile's Episcopal Conference of bishops, Alejandro Goic.

"We want total transparency and total truth. The idea that the church is using Father Karadima to clean its image is an infamy that we cannot accept," Goic said.

The allegations in Chile come amid a growing church abuse scandal in Latin America, where the large majority of more than 500 million people are Roman Catholics.

Early Tuesday, a bomb exploded in front of a Catholic church in Chile's south, destroying its front and the windows of neighboring buildings, but causing no casualties. The bombing took place in the city of Temuco.

Temuco police said they suspected anarchists, not a group involved in the church abuse issue. Pamphlets claiming responsibility were left by a group calling itself "Native Orchestral Chaos Three," police chief Alfonso Fernandez said.