October 15, 2014 / 3:48 PM / in 3 years

Irish-born Chilean priest found guilty of child sex abuse

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - An Irish-born Chilean priest was found guilty on Wednesday of sexually abusing a child in his care at a religious school in the capital, Santiago.

The court found that John O‘Reilly, who moved to Chile from Ireland in 1985, had abused the pre-teen girl behind closed doors at the private Colegio Cumbres in the affluent neighborhood of Las Condes between 2007 and 2009.

“The tribunal has established beyond all reasonable doubt that ... O‘Reilly resolved to carry out actions of a sexual nature via body contact with a school student,” said Judge Maria Teresa Barrientos.

O‘Reilly, who denied the charges, will be sentenced next month. Prosecutors have 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 was revealed 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 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.

The authority of the church in O‘Reilly’s native Ireland, in particular, has been rocked by investigations into past clerical sex abuse and state-abetted cover-ups at Catholic-run schools and institutions, labeled places of fear and neglect in a 2009 official report.

Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by James Dalgleish

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