Irish priest in Chile faces inquiry over alleged abuse

Mon, Dec 12, 2011, 00:00

AN IRISH missionary priest is under investigation by church authorities following accusations that he sexually abused two young men in Chile during the 1980s.

The Irish Timeshas learnt that Fr Jeremiah Healy stepped down as head of the Columban Fathers missionary society’s operation in the country in May after the first of the two men reported the alleged abuse to the society.

In June a second man made similar claims in a declaration presented to the archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati Andrello.

Originally from Co Kerry, Fr Healy was known in Chile as Padre Derry and has been a missionary there since 1981, working in communities in Villa Frei, Pudahuel, Valparaíso and Santiago.

The first man, Claudio Ramos, told The Irish Times he met Fr Healy in 1983 when he was 14 years old.

He said the abuse started two years later after Fr Healy offered him space in his house to study as he was unable to do so at home due to family problems.

“He was a friend and very sympathetic and open. At this time I liked art films and he had a VHS machine and would invite me to watch videos.

“Then when we were alone he abused this confidence I had in him,” Mr Ramos said.

The second man, Jorge Salas, now Mr Ramos’s brother-in-law, said in his declaration to Santiago’s archbishop that he met Fr Healy in 1983 when he was 19 years old.

The priest became a friend and helped him at a time when he was having difficulties in his relationships with friends and family.

Mr Salas said when he was 23 years old Fr Healy initiated a sexual relationship, claiming it would teach him “new sexual techniques and with all this I would be protected from women”.

Mr Salas said the relationship left him ashamed and confused and he broke it off in 1989.

Fr Healy remained closely involved with his family and was very close with his future wife, and would go on to baptise his children.

Mr Salas said he finally got the confidence to tell his wife after the exposure last year of one of Chile’s best-known priests Fernando Karadima as a serial child abuser, in a case that stunned the deeply Catholic country.

“I waited for an opportunity and told my wife. She believed me and said she suspected her brother Claudio had gone through the same thing.

“She confronted Derry and he confessed that he had sexually abused Claudio when he was a child,” he said.

The Irish Timeswas not able to contact Fr Healy but in an interview he gave in October to the Chilean investigative website Ciper Chile he said he had resigned as the Columbans’ director in Chile once a formal accusation was made against him.

“I am preoccupied with the people who could have been hurt by my actions and I am responsible for my actions. I have nothing to say against them,” he said.

“If there are people who feel offended, I am deeply sorry for this.

“My intention was never to harm the lives of people. I feel very ashamed by this.”

Fr Healy’s replacement as head of the Columbans in Chile told The Irish Times that an internal investigation has already been carried out and presented to the society’s superior general in Hong Kong who then passed it on to the Vatican.

“Rome will express its will,” said Fr Álvaro Martínez.

Until then Fr Healy is not allowed any contact with minors or allowed to perform any public duties and must remain in seclusion in the society’s house in Santiago.

Fr Healy also faces a possible civil investigation after Mr Ramos made a formal accusation against him with Chile’s public prosecutor, though Fr Martínez says there has been no effort by the state authorities to enter into contact with Fr Healy or the Columbans.

The statute of limitations in Chile means Fr Healy is unlikely to face any prosecution.

The regional director of the Columban Fathers in Ireland, Fr Donal Hogan, said the society was “deeply disheartened by news of alleged sexual abuse by one of our members in Chile”.

“I’ve known Derry for years and years. With the permission of our superior general, I accessed his files going back to student years. There was not a hint of any complaint.

“My own reaction is one of total shock,” Fr Hogan said.

He added that the Columbans in Chile under Fr Martínez were “fulfilling all the requirements of the civil law and of the Chilean bishops”, in addressing the allegations.