SANTIAGO (Reuters) – An Irish-born priest, found guilty last month of sexually abusing a child in his care at a religious school in Santiago, will avoid jail time under a sentence handed down on Tuesday.
A judge sentenced John O’Reilly, who moved to Chile from Ireland in 1985, to four years and a day of “supervised liberty” for abusing the pre-teen girl at the private Colegio Cumbres in the affluent neighborhood of Las Condes between 2007 and 2009.
O’Reilly, who over the years befriended many powerful conservative businessmen and politicians in Chile, will not be confined at home nor be required to periodically check in with a parole officer. He will be free to travel out of the country.
He will have to attend semi-regular rehabilitation therapy sessions, and his name will be appear on a national pedophile registry intended to keep him from working with children.
Prosecutors had requested that he be sent to prison for 10 years.
The school where the abuse took place is part of the network of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative religious order whose founder, Mexican Father Marcial Maciel, was found by a Vatican investigation to be a fraud and pedophile who had fathered several children.
The Catholic church retains a strong influence in conservative Chile, but cases like this of abuse and other crimes by priests have shaken confidence in recent years.
In 2011, powerful Chilean priest Fernando Karadima was found guilty by the Vatican of abusing teenage boys over many years. The criminal case against him collapsed and the church ordered him to live a life of prayer and banned him from celebrating public mass.
Another priest is under investigation for the forced adoption of babies after telling single mothers their infants had died.
Argentine-born Pope Francis has vowed zero tolerance of clerics who abuse minors, after scandals in a number of countries over many years.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)