SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — An Irish priest from the Legion of Christ religious order has obeyed Chilean government orders and left the South American country on Friday after finishing a four-year sentence for sexually abusing a minor.
Chile's government had ordered the Rev. John O'Reilly to leave or be expelled after serving his sentence in conditional liberty. O'Reilly was seen earlier on Friday waiting for his Rome-bound plane at a VIP lounge in Santiago's international airport. He denied any wrongdoing, telling a local TV reporter that he was grateful for his time in Chile, where he had lived since the mid-1980s.
In 2014, O'Reilly was convicted of sexually abusing a minor while he was a chaplain at a school operated by the Legion in Santiago. The court also banned him from any job near children and included him in a database for registered abusers. Congress had revoked the honorary citizenship it gave O'Reilly in 2008.
But while convicted by courts in Chile, his canonical case has languished in the Vatican.
His forced departure comes at the end of a year that has seen the Chilean Catholic hierarchy humiliated over decades of abuse and cover-up. O'Reilly's fall from grace also highlights how the problems in the Mexican-based Legion of Christ did not end with its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, who was found to have been a serial pedophile who fathered at least three children with two women.
A statement by the Legion of Christ said the O'Reilly will stay at their Rome headquarters.
O'Reilly bid farewell to his supporters in WhatsApp message sent on his behalf by a member of his entourage.
"Friends: with a broken heart and very confused and with a weakened health, I say goodbye with immense gratitude, appreciation and admiration ... I beg you not to abandon me ... a big and emotional hug," he said.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.