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Chile court opens door for more Church sex abuse victims to seek damages

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By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s Catholic Church should prepare itself for an onslaught of new civil suits from victims seeking compensation for past cases of sexual abuse, a lawyer who successfully sued the Archdiocese of Santiago said on Thursday.

Juan Pablo Hermosilla said a Chilean court’s decision on Wednesday to force Chile’s most influential archdiocese to pay his clients more than $400,000 (£306,701.4) in damages has opened the door for other “victims of abuse in church settings,” to seek financial compensation.

The appeals court decision is the first to require Chile’s powerful Roman Catholic Church to pay damages related to an ongoing sex abuse scandal that last year prompted Pope Francis to apologise to the church’s community worldwide.

“The Archdiocese of Santiago should consider creating a reparations commission,” Hermosilla told Reuters. “This would be a good way to avoid the exhausting and destructive process of dealing with each case in court.”

The deepening abuse scandal in Chile last week led Pope Francis to accept the resignation of Archbishop of Santiago Ricardo Ezzati, the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church in Chile.

His replacement, Bishop Celestino Aos, said following Wednesday’s court ruling that Chile’s justice system was handling each accusation “case by case” but said he could not predict what might come next.

Aos said those who feel violated should feel free to act, adding that the Church was seeking “truth, justice and reparation.”

Wednesday’s unanimous appeal’s court decision required the Archdiocese to pay 100 million pesos ($146,000) each for “moral damages” to Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton. The men accuse former Santiago parish priest Fernando Karadima of having sexually abused them decades ago, and the Church of having covered up that abuse.

Aos said the Church would not appeal the ruling.

Chilean investigators are investigating 158 allegations of sexual abuse or cover-up involving 241 victims, of which 123 were underage at the time of the abuse, according to the latest statistics from Chile’s state prosecutor’s office.

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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