Chilean bishops express concern over number of sex abuse victims

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After the Chilean prosecutor's office announced that it has compiled a list of 266 victims of sexual abuse by Church figures, a spokesman for the bishops' conference said the figure is 'alarming'.

"The temptation would be to dwell on the number of those accused, but what the Church is asking of us today is to first of all consider the individual victims. That number is alarming and is what concerns us the most," Jaime Coiro said at a July 24 press conference.

According to the National Prosecutor's Office July 23, the list identified 144 cases which occurred from 1960 to date. It also indicated some 266 victims, of which 178 are minors. It said 158 members of the Church are being investigated as possible perpetrators of sexual abuse or for covering it up.

Among those who possibly perpetrated or covered up abuse are bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laypeople.

Prosecutor Luis Torres stated that the vast majority of complaints "entail sex crimes committed by priests, parish pastors or persons associated with educational institutions."  

"There are also five cases of cover up or obstruction of justice against the superiors of congregations or bishops in charge of a given diocese," he added.

The Rancagua Regional Prosecutor's Office summoned July 23 the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to testify Aug. 20 regarding possible cover up on his part.

Coiro said that "we have learned that besides the number (of victims), each one of these persons has had to go through an extremely painful process, many of them have had to recount time and time again in different instances before different people what happened to them."

Ana María Celis, a member of the National Council for Abuse Prevention of the Chilean Bishops' Conference, said that in cases of sexual abuse the action of both the civil and well as canonical jurisdiction is required, "because what one does the other cannot do."

"We are going to do everything possible so that person has recourse to both jurisdictions," she stated.

In another case, the Archdiocese of Santiago announced July 13 a new preliminary investigation against Fr. Jorge Laplagne Aguirre,  pastor of San Crescente and Our Lady of Luján parishes, in addition to working in a Marist Congregation school.

A complaint was filed June 27 for an incident alleged to have taken place in 2005. The archdiocese noted that in 2010 the same case was investigated but the accusations could not be determined to be credible.

The priest was prohibited from publicly exercising priestly ministry or acting as pastor during the investigation, which has a maximum duration of 60 days.

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