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‘How I escaped the priest who abused me for decades’

In Chile, more than 100 Catholic clergy are being investigated over alleged sex crimes and attempts to cover them up. It’s a scandal that haunts the reign of Pope Francis and has tipped the Chilean church into crisis. But it began decades ago with one man – Father Fernando Karadima, a parish priest in Santiago, who became Chile’s most notorious sexual predator.

“He offered you the vision of being called by the Lord. He showed you a very wonderful world,” remembers Dr James Hamilton, a gastric surgeon now in his 50s.

“He always told us he had a special gift – a kind of miracle gift – that he could see in every young person, if they had been called by God. He was almost a kind of saint.”

Father Fernando Karadima offered the adolescent James Hamilton refuge in the early 1980s. Chile had been under the dictatorship of Gen Augusto Pinochet for a decade. And in those troubled years of killings and disappearances, the church community created by this charismatic priest in the upmarket Santiago parish of El Bosque provided welcome reassurance.

“For a young person, it was like the bee and the honey – it was sweet in a world of difficulties, when you were struggling with your family,” says James Hamilton.

His father had left the family home, so here was a teenager who was vulnerable – easy prey for a practised abuser.

And, as a young idealist, he believed he had only two choices: “Join the people fighting against Pinochet, mostly through violence. Or, follow the road the Catholic Church showed you – the ways of the saints, of peace and to become the voice of Jesus. I wanted to study medicine, so my way was non-violence.”       Continue Reading