SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera proposed on Thursday to remove the statute of limitations on sex crimes, days after victims abused by a Catholic priest in Chile met with the Pope seeking retribution for the alleged crimes.
Pinera called on Chile’s Congress to act quickly in approving the bill, saying it would end impunity in cases that now have a statute of limitations that varies between 5 and 10 years, depending on the nature of the crime.
“Children that have been sexually abused have the right to defend themselves and to ensure justice is served,” Pinera said in a speech at the presidential palace in Santiago.
The proposal was lauded by victims of Fernando Karadima, a priest and Chile’s most notorious pedophile, three of whom had earlier this week traveled to Rome and urged Pope Francis to take action against several Chilean bishops.
Karadima was found guilty in a Vatican investigation in 2011 of abusing boys in Santiago in the 1970s and 1980s. But he never faced civilian justice because of the country’s abbreviated statute of limitations.
“This is a miracle. It’s a huge advance. I’m very excited. I wasn’t expecting this,” said Karadima victim James Hamilton.
Hamilton had previously called bishops whom he accused of covering up the abuse “criminals” who deserved to be jailed.
It was not immediately clear whether the bill would apply retroactively, or only affect crimes committed following its passage.
The bill also follows a high-profile case in which a 20-month-old infant girl was raped and later murdered by a family member in Los Andes, a town outside of Santiago, dominating headlines and increasing pressure for more stringent laws against abuse.
The girl’s funeral was also held on Thursday.
According to government figures, more than 22,540 cases of sex crimes take place in Chile, or nearly three per hour.
Reporting by Antonio De la Jara, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Bernadette Baum