An appeals court in Chile ruled Wednesday that the Roman Catholic Church must pay compensation to three victims of the Reverend Fernando Karadima, the country's most notorious paedophile priest.
The court in the Chilean capital said that the Church must pay about US$150,000 each to Juan Carlos Cruz, José Andrés Murillo and James Hamilton for "moral damage." It also overturned a lower-court ruling that found no proof of a Church cover-up.
The ruling could prompt hundreds of other people who have reported clerical sexual abuses or cover-ups by the Chilean branch of the Church to seek compensation.
"Today, the Chilean state puts on the record that all institutions are guarantors and should protect the rights of its citizens. And that no one, however powerful they might be, can abuse and cover-up sexual abuses with impunity," Hamilton told reporters reading from a joint statement by the three victims.
He said the ruling is important, "not only for us in particular, but for the hundreds or thousands of victims of abuse committed by priests and religious members who have suffered the lack of justice, re-victimisation, abandonment, complete loneliness, and betrayal to their original commitment of care and accompaniment."
The office of the Santiago Archbishopric said in a statement that it would not appeal the ruling and that it was in "consent" with the court's decision, hoping it "will contribute to the process of reparation of the pain suffered by Fernando Karadima's victims."
The ruling said that Church officials had harmed victims by dismissing their complaints of abuse rather than investigating them.
The Vatican in 2011 sentenced Karadima, a powerful preacher close to Chile's elite, to a lifetime of penance and prayer for his sex crimes, and Pope Francis defrocked him last year.
During a 2018 trip to Chile, the pope initially dismissed allegations that a bishop had covered up Karadima's crimes, but he later acknowledged "grave errors in judgment" and asked all active Chilean bishops to offer their resignations.