A senior Irish Missionary priest is under investigation in Chile after claims that he abused two young men there in the 1980s.
Kerry native Fr Jeremiah Healy resigned as head of the Columban Fathers’ missionary society in Chile last May after one of the men reported the alleged abuse.
The Irish Times has reported on two separate complaints made by the men to the Archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati Andrello.
A missionary in Chile since 1981, Fr Healy was known to locals as Padre Derry and worked in various communities in Villa Frei, Pudahuel, Valparaíso and Santiago.
His first victim Claudio Ramos told The Irish Times that he met the Irish priest when he was just 14 and that the abuse started two years later, in 1985 when Fr Healy offered him space in his house to study.
“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,” Ramos told the paper.
“Then when we were alone he abused this confidence I had in him.”
The second victim, Jorge Salas, told the paper that he met Fr Healy in 1983 when he was 19 years old and having difficulties in his relationships with friends and family.
He added that when he was 23 years old, Fr Healy initiated a sexual relationship. “He claimed it would teach me new sexual techniques and with all this I would be protected from women,” said Salas.
The report states that although the relationship left Salas ‘ashamed and confused’ after he ended it 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.
Salas told the Irish Times that 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.
“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,” he said.
“She confronted Derry and he confessed that he had sexually abused Claudio when he was a child.”
Although the Irish Times was unable to contact Fr Healy, the report did quote from an interview he gave in October to the Chilean investigative website Ciper Chile.
In the interview, 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.”
The priest who has replaced Fr Healy as head of the Columbans in Chile revealed to the Irish Times that an internal investigation has been completed. The results have been presented to the society’s superior general in Hong Kong and passed on to the Vatican.
“Rome will express its will,” said Fr Álvaro Martínez who also confirmed that 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. The Kerry priest could also face a civil investigation.
Fr Donal Hogan, regional director of the Columban Fathers in Ireland, told the paper that the society was ‘deeply disheartened by news of alleged sexual abuse by one of our members in Chile’.
Fr Hogan said: “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. The Columbans in Chile, under Fr Martínez, are fulfilling all the requirements of the civil law and of the Chilean bishops, in addressing the allegations.”