Abuse allegations brought down social priest Felipe Berrios

How the prominent Jesuit in Chile was expelled

Santiago de Chile - Felipe Berrios is one of the best-known faces of his Jesuit order in Chile and founded numerous NGOs. The left-wing government under President Gabriel Boric even offered him a position in the government.

Published  on 14.05.2024 at 00:01  – by Tobias Käufer (KNA)

Even after his expulsion from the Jesuit order, Felipe Berrios remains combative. The community had allowed itself to be led by public opinion, Berrios told the Chilean newspaper "La Tercera". However, his break with the institution was not a break with the Gospel, the prominent cleric said in a detailed interview. He was sad, but inwardly calm.

Shortly before, the Jesuits had expelled the nationally known priest from their religious community following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct towards girls and young women. "After a lengthy canonical procedure, the Superior General of the Jesuits has ordered the expulsion of Felipe Berrios after examining the information gathered," it said in a statement. The order's leadership also banned Berrios from publicly exercising the priesthood and any pastoral contact with minors for a period of ten years.

Self-denunciation after suspension

After the allegations became known in 2022 and his temporary suspension, Berrios himself filed a complaint against himself in order to get the investigation rolling. According to media reports, the allegations against him were not substantiated. The religious himself described the allegations as unfounded. At the same time, he accused the Jesuits of not having supported him enough in finding the truth - and subsequently turned his back on the community of his own accord.

Priests and the Presentation Cross
Bild: ©KNA/Harald Oppitz

The order's leadership also banned Berrios from publicly exercising the priesthood and any pastoral contact with minors for a period of ten years.

So now he was expelled. Berrios founded numerous social non-governmental organisations in Chile; he also worked in Burundi and the Congo, for example. He repeatedly engaged in fierce content-related disputes with the church leadership. Politically, he is close to the Chilean left. When he returned from a four-year stay in Africa in 2014, he was received at the airport by the rector of Alberto Hurtado University, Fernando Montes, and President Michelle Bachelet's defence minister at the time, Jorge Burgos.

Left-wing government offered him a leadership role

At the beginning of its term of office in 2022, the new left-wing government of President Gabriel Boric then offered the cleric a leading role in social housing projects in the responsible ministry. Boric came to office as a result of the social protests in 2019, which Berrios had supported. While his order gave him the green light, Berrios declined to accept the government's offer. When the allegations surfaced a short time later, Boric distanced himself from Berrios and discussed the establishment of a state truth commission to investigate cases of clerical abuse. In such cases, one must always stand on the side of the victims, he was quoted as saying by Chilean media. The aim must be to ensure that the victims do not feel defenceless.

The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Chile is far-reaching. The clergyman Fernando Karadima, who was later dismissed, convicted and died in 2021, played a key role. Several bishops emerged from his circle, several of whom eventually resigned. In the meantime, Chile's judiciary investigated more than 150 suspected cases of abuse against more than 200 church employees. The alleged victims include at least 240 people, around half of whom are said to have been minors at the time of the offence. The church in Chile has adopted a zero-tolerance strategy towards abuse.

by Tobias Käufer (KNA)