Chilean cardinal pledges full abuse investigation

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A top Roman Catholic official in Chile acknowledged in a letter Sunday that he suspended an investigation into alleged abuses by a priest because he was looking for more evidence.

But Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz assured parishioners the church investigation is again under way into the retired Rev. Fernando Karadima, who also is the subject of a Chilean prosecutor's criminal probe.

"After an initial investigation ... I suspended the matter to wait for new evidence, analyze more deeply what we already had and hold new consultations with experts in canonical law," Errazuriz said in the letter, which was read aloud to all parishes in the archdiocese of the capital, Santiago.

The accusations against Karadima were first reported last week by La Tercera newspaper, which said a former altar boy accused the ex-priest of sexually abusing him in his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in the capital's elegant Providencia neighborhood. The man, now a doctor, said the abuse started when he was a child and continued for nearly 20 years.

Four other men, all active participants in the parish, then came forward with similar allegations, the doctor's lawyer said.

Karadima, 80, has not responded directly to the charges, but his lawyer has insisted that his client is innocent.

Errazuriz encouraged potential victims of priests to contact church authorities, saying the stream of recent sex-abuse claims from Europe "has shocked and shaken us."

He promised the investigation of Karadima will be thorough and said it is at a "rather advanced" stage after being turned over to a new investigator last year.

"He is a priest who has worked fruitfully and generously nearly his whole life," Errazuriz said of Karadima. Nevertheless, "There is no place in the priesthood for those who abuse minors, and no excuse that can justify this crime."

"We are wholly committed to being unceasingly vigilant so that these very serious crimes are not repeated," he added.

Lawyer Juan Pablo Hermosilla, who is representing four people who say they were abused by Karadima, said some of the legal cases could be dismissed because they concern events from more than 10 years ago. Other, more recent claims are also being investigated, however, he said.