SANTIAGO, Chile — A prominent Chilean priest who was ordered by the Vatican to never again celebrate a public Mass as punishment for sexually abusing altar boys has been photographed defying the order.

Chile’s top church leaders confirmed the Rev. Fernando Karadima’s act of insubordination Friday and sent the case to the Vatican for investigation. The photos were taken Dec. 4, but they were released only this week by Juan Carlos Cruz, a journalist and one of Karadima’s victims.

“It’s a very painful situation that shows that this priest continues to do as he pleases,” Cruz said. “It’s a slap in the face for the victims of his abuse. He should be in jail but instead he’s still being protected by the church.”

The Roman Catholic Church retains a firm grip on Chilean society, although in recent years its influence has waned after scandals in which priests have been accused of molesting children. Victims say Karadima began abusing them at his residence at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago about 20 years ago, when they were between 14 and 17 years old.

The Vatican sanctioned Karadima by ordering him to a life of “penitence and prayer” in 2011. He was also barred from celebrating Mass in public. A Chilean judge later dismissed a criminal case because the statute of limitations had expired, but she determined the abuse allegations were truthful.

The timing of the photos’ release appeared aimed at embarrassing the current and former archbishops of Santiago, who were in Rome for Saturday’s ceremony to name current Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello a cardinal.