Tue, May 15, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Chileans denounce decades of abuse by Marist brothers


Cartoonist Eladio Valdes, who has accused a brother at the Brothers Alonso de Ercilla Institute of sexually abusing him when he was 10 years old, poses in his home studio in Santiago, Chile, on May 10. Valdes said his attacker was the same brother who taught him to draw at the school.

Photo: AP

Even as Pope Francis apologized for his failures in connection with Chile’s most famous case of clerical sex abuse, the pope and that country’s deeply discredited Catholic Church are under mounting pressure to address another, even bigger sex scandal.

The blooming scandal of the Marist Brothers, a congregation dedicated to education, has not yet drawn great attention worldwide — unlike allegations that a bishop covered up the crimes of a pedophile priest, Reverend Fernando Karadima.

Francis recently spent several days at his Vatican hotel in talks with three of Karadima’s victims; this week he is meeting with all of Chile’s bishops to address the crisis that has implicated several church leaders and religious orders.

In the Marist case, the accusations of abuse are many.

“It’s a situation of systematic abuse where there are multiple abusers throughout time, within and outside the congregation,” said Juan Pablo Hermosilla, an attorney for some of the victims.


He said that there at least 20 cases of abuse, but that there could be more.

“It’s an unprecedented situation,” he said.

Marists are religious brothers, not priests; they operate in dozens of countries around the world.

The scandal came to light in August last year, when the group revealed that at least 14 minors were abused from the 1970s until 2008 by Abel Perez, a brother who worked at two of the order’s schools.

Then it acknowledged that another Marist sexually abused five students.

The Marists opened a canonical investigation and launched legal action against Perez, but many Chileans were outraged when the order admitted that Perez had confessed in 2010 — seven years earlier.

Now, victims have filed a criminal complaint against three Catholic priests, a Capuchin brother and six Marists. In that complaint and in interviews, they have recounted numerous abusive encounters.

Jaime Concha said he was 12 years old when he was raped by Perez during a Boy Scout field trip in the 1970s.

He said Perez, a trip chaperone, took him to a tent after he fell ill, and gave him herbal tea mixed with alcohol.

“When I woke up in the middle of the night, he was taking advantage of me,” the 55-year-old physician said. “He had already raped me.”

However, he said Perez blamed the abuse on him, saying: “Don’t worry, I’ve already asked God to forgive your sin.”

Gonzalo Dezerega, 55, wept as he recounted how Perez raped him at the school’s locker rooms and showers. He was 10.

Perez has declined to speak with the media. Despite the order’s acknowledgment that he confessed, his lawyers continue to maintain his innocence.

The alleged abuses at the Alonso de Ercilla Institute in Chile often took place at the school’s basement, in the rooms of the Marist Brothers who lived in a residence connected to the school, or at spiritual retreats and scout field trips.

Concha said that he was abused by other Marists, as well as by priests. Jorge Franco said he was 15 when he was abused by one priest while another watched.

Concha and Franco said the current principal of the school, Jesus Perez — who was then in charge of pastoral activities, including masses, communion and confessions — once dragged them to the school basement, forced them to take off their clothes and don a tunic while they waited to take a “vocational test” to determine whether they were suited to become Marist brothers.

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