Chilean priest allegedly abused 5 young men

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A Chilean prosecutor on Thursday announced a criminal investigation of a popular retired priest accused of sexually abusing five young men in his parish residence.

The allegations were lodged late last year and confirmed by the archbishop of Santiago only this week, as Chile's Roman Catholic leadership appealed publicly for forgiveness for alleged abuses involving 20 clergy members. Five of them have been convicted and 15 others are under investigation.

Prosecutor Javier Armendariz on Thursday announced a criminal investigation of the allegations against retired priest Fernando Karadima.

A church probe also is under way. Archbishop Francisco Javier Errazuriz said "it's unthinkable that the claims are true" but they have to be treated seriously anyway.

The accusations were first reported this week by Chile's La Tercera newspaper, which said a former altar boy accused Karadima 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 revealed similar experiences, the doctor's lawyer said.

Karadima, now 80, is retired and still lives in the residence. He is well respected within Chile's church, where he trained other priests who now are bishops.

Attorney Juan Pablo Hermosilla, who represents four of the alleged victims, told the El Mostrador newspaper that the men didn't want to bring charges against the priest. He presided over one of their weddings, and baptized the man's children.

"He was their spiritual guide, the one they confessed to, and for this reason he has a very strong power over them," Hermosilla said.