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PUNTA DE TRALCA, Chile (ChurchMilitant.com) - Amid a tough sex abuse crackdown by law enforcement, the Catholic bishops in Chile are pledging to start cooperating with investigators.
A series of police raids on Chilean chanceries and other Church properties took place in June and July. A pair of raids on chanceries in Santiago and Managua on June 13 led to the arrest of sex abuser Fr. Óscar Muñoz Toledo — who had admitted abusing minors to Church officials in January.
In the weeks that many followed, there were five other police raids targetting Church properties in Chile, seeking to find evidence pertaining to allegations of clerical sex abuse.
Now, the Chilean bishops claim they will cooperate with law enforcement. In a press conference Aug. 3 in Punta de Tralca, the president of the bishops' conference, Bp. Santiago Silva, said, "Here there's one key criteria: total disposition to cooperate with the prosecutors. On the basis of this bottom line, we're trying to reach agreement."
During that press conference, Bp. Silva also issued an apology: "We have failed in our role as pastors, for not having listened, believed, attended or accompanied the victims of grave sins and injustices committed by priests and religious."
Police and prosecutors stage raids on Chile's Catholic Church offices, leaving Vatican scrambling to respond to scandal that is Pope Francis' worst image crisis, @simmoa and @casslgarrison report: https://t.co/kOU6HWB6ZJ via @ReutersTV pic.twitter.com/8clDUvYyes— Reuters TV (@ReutersTV) July 31, 2018
Following the chancery raids that kicked off in June, Chilean prosecutor Emiliano Arias told the press that he was planning a "historic" clerical sex abuse trial.
Arias told Spanish newspaper El Pais in late July, "We're going to carry out a historic trial and I hope that we're able to establish if, had determined bishops complied with their due diligence, a good portion of the sexual abuses against minors committed by Chilean religious could have been avoided."
On Aug. 21, Arias will question Cdl. Ricardo Ezzati of the archdiocese of Santiago about allegations that he covered up sexually abusive clergy.
In Chile today, there are currently 37 open cases of sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
Pope Francis was in hot water in January during a trip to Latin America when he defended Bp. Juan Barros, a Chilean prelate accused of protecting a predator priest as a monsignor. There was immediate backlash to the Pope's comments. In the months that followed, the Pope changed his tone drastically on Chile's clerical sex abuse scandal. He instructed Church officials to conduct investigations into the sex abuse allegations in Chile and summoned Chile's bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting.
During the emergency meeting in Rome in May, all the Chilean prelates offered their resignations to the Holy Father. He accepted the resignations of a few who were particularly culpable of covering up sex abuse.