A Chilean court has ordered the country’s Roman Catholic Church to pay compensation to victims in a sex abuse case against influential former priest Fernando Karadima.
A unanimous ruling issued on Wednesday requires the Church to pay 100m pesos ($146,000) for “moral damages” to each of his three victims.
Juan Carlos Cruz, Jose Andres Murillo and James Hamilton, who accuse Karadima of sexually abusing them three decades ago, had sued the Church for allegedly covering up Karadima’s abuses for years.
Once a parish priest in El Bosque, an upmarket, conservative neighbourhood of the Chilean capital, Santiago, Karadima was defrocked by Pope Francis in September. He has always denied accusations that he sexually abused the three men when they were boys.
Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal widening in Chile
The appeals court’s decision is the first to order Chile’s powerful Catholic Church to pay damages and comes amid an ongoing clerical sex abuse scandal engulfing the deeply-religious Andean country.
The case could pave the way for a flood of civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages from the Catholic Church in Chile and beyond. The decision may still be appealed to Chile’s Supreme Court.
In a post on Twitter following the announcement, Cruz said he was “happy” with the decision, which he felt would help all those who had experienced the “horror” of sexual abuse.
Cruz added that he, Hamilton and Murillo will hold a press conference at 17:00 local time (20:00GMT).
Karadima, now 88, lives in a nursing home in Santiago.
Due to the statute of limitations on sexual crimes under Chilean law, he was never charged by civilian authorities.
He was, however, found guilty of sexual abuse in a Vatican investigation in 2011, which meant that he remained a priest but could no longer administer in public.
His case is one of an increasing number of civil suits against clergymen Chile, where allegations of abuse and cover-ups have dogged the Catholic Church for years.
Chile sex abuse scandal: Catholics attempt to rebuild faith
In the last year, an unprecedented investigation has ramped up efforts to identify victims and perpetrators, with more than 100 clergymen being placed under investigation by state authorities. It is the largest clerical sex abuse probe in Latin American history and spans all of Chile’s 15 mainland regions.
On Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago and the highest-ranking member of Chile’s Catholic Church. Ezzati was accused of covering up abuse but denies all wrongdoing.
Chile’s sex abuse scandal is part of a global crisis, which has cast a shadow over the moral authority of the Catholic Church.
On Wednesday, the Catholic Church in Quebec, Canada opened a probe into sexual abuse of children by clergy spanning seven decades.
Al Jazeera and news agencies