Catholic clergy abuse victim leads drive to shakeup establishment politics in Chile

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean sexual abuse victim who took on the Catholic Church has announced plans to form a new political party, one of several that has emerged since protests rocked the country late last year.

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James Hamilton, a doctor who was one of the first people in Chile to come forward claiming he was the victim of child sexual abuse by clergy, has called his party Dignity.

The name is a reference to the public square in the Chilean capital where protesters have gathered over the past three months to denounce inequality and high living costs.

Hamilton is seeking to unite his countrymen around “principles” rather than ideologies of left and right.

He was one of several men who accused now-defrocked Santiago parish priest Fernando Karadima of sexually abusing them as boys. Karadima, who denied wrongdoing, was found guilty in a Vatican investigation but not prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.

Hamilton, who won $146,000 in “moral damages” last year in the case, said he saw himself as continuing his battle against the abuse of the weak by the powerful.

“We have to try to change the soul of politics,” he told journalists in Santiago on Friday.

His party is one of eight that have sought registration with the electoral board since the protests broke out in October, compared to just one in the same period the previous year, data showed.

If they succeed in gathering the required signatures from supporters and funding, the nascent parties, whose names include Party of the People, A Fairer Chile and Party for Citizen Representation, pose a potentially significant challenge to the 21 established parties of left and right.

Those parties are facing a widespread legitimacy crisis after the worst unrest since the end of the regime of General Augusto Pinochet in 1990 brought the country to a halt and left them struggling to respond to widespread public fury.

President Sebastian Pinera´s center-right government has been accused by protesters of overlooking entrenched inequality and failing to stamp out alleged human rights abuses by police and soldiers.

The fractured opposition has also faced criticism that it is focused on politicking instead of seeking concrete solutions to the public discontent and failing to wholesale condemn the violence at the protests´ fringes, which has caused millions of dollars of damage to infrastructure and businesses.

In a poll published last week, politicians of all stripes were panned. Only 2% of respondents said they had confidence in established political parties and 72% identified themselves as without political allegiance.

Mireya Dávila, an academic with Chile´s Public Affairs Institute, said the ground was fertile for a new breed of politicians with the “moral legitimacy” of Hamilton, who also pioneered the use of robotics in surgery in Chile.

“We will have to see if he has the leadership capacity and political intuition to keep himself above the fray,” she said.

Reporting by Natalia Ramos, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Cynthia Osterman