Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati of Santiago, former head of the Chilean bishops' conference, has been slapped with a half-million dollar lawsuit for concealing an assault by gay priest Fr. Tito Rivera.
The complaint alleges that in 2015, Rivera drugged and raped 40-year-old Daniel Rojas, who had come to the cathedral to ask for help with buying medicine for his daughter.
According to Rojas' testimony, Fr. Rivera led him upstairs and down a long corridor to one of the cathedral's bedrooms, where the priest offered him a glass of water; soon after, Rojas began to feel sick and found he could no longer control his body. Immobilized, Rojas was then raped by Fr. Rivera.
Recounting the attack to Chilean media, Rojas said he tried to fight back but didn't have the strength to move his body.
"It's unbelievable," he lamented, describing the "despair" and "terrible frustration" he felt at not being able to defend himself against the assault.
"I started to cry," Rojas recalled. "I was not 13, I was not a minor. I could hit him, but my body did not react to me. I felt like a pig," he said through tears.
Within days, Rojas filed a criminal complaint against Fr. Rivera. In June, the archdiocese of Santiago ruled the allegation credible and launched an investigation into Rivera's conduct. In their preliminary report, archdiocesan officials noted that Fr. Rivera indulged in "habitual homosexual behavior, seriously immoral and practically out of control."
In the course of their investigation, Church authorities uncovered additional complaints against Rivera. A priest revealed that in 2011, a mother came to him accusing Fr. Rivera of "sexually initiating" her 16-year-old son. An altar boy stepped forward with photographs and video of Rivera having sex with seven different men, as well as an adolescent minor; each encounter was recorded in one of the cathedral's various second-floor bedrooms.
As the investigation continued, Rojas' life was disintegrating. Refusing to believe his account, his girlfriend had accused him of having a gay affair with Fr. Rivera and kicked him out onto the streets, separating Rojas from his children. Multiple attempts to seek psychiatric help from the Church proved fruitless, with priest after priest accusing him of lying.
Unable to cope with all that had happened to him, in 2016, Rojas returned to the cathedral to speak directly with Cdl. Ezzati about his assault.
Inside the confessional, Rojas told the cardinal he had been raped by Fr. Rivera a year earlier. Reportedly, Ezzati responded by warning Rojas to keep quiet about the rape. Outside the confessional, he repeated the order: "I will give you a little help, but promise me that you will not tell anyone."
Cardinal Ezzati then gave Rojas $50 and a hug and sent him on his way.
In September 2016, at the recommendation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the archdiocese of Santiago launched a full canonical investigation into Fr. Rivera's history of homosexual promiscuity and abuse.
The inquiry prompted Cdl. Ezzati to order Rivera be suspended from ministry for 10 years. Less than a year later, he relented and gave Fr. Rivera permission to conduct weddings.
Having heard no word from the archdiocese on the status of his case, in 2018, Rojas visited the Santiago chancery seeking information. He was dismissed without answer, but soon received word through email that his case had been judged credible and led to Fr. Rivera's quasi-suspension.
With that, Rojas decided to file a civil complaint against Cdl. Ezzati, Fr. Rivera and the archdiocese of Santiago.
"I don't need for them to buy me a plane ticket to meet the pope, nor to stay in the best hotel in Rome," he told a Chilean television network. "I'm not looking for millions, the only thing I'm looking for is truth and justice."
Cardinal Ezzati is now under investigation by law enforcement for his role in covering up clerical sex abuse. Last May, he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis after the entire Chilean hierarchy was hauled to Rome over their country's exploding abuse scandal.
In the wake of the emergency gathering, Francis dismissed a handful of Chilean bishops for wrongdoing. But Ezzati was not among them.
Meanwhile, Rojas remains homeless, living day to day on the streets of Santiago.