Chile says investigating 158 in Catholic Church over sex abuse

Pope Francis -- shown here at the Vatican on July 22 -- last month accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops amid accusations of abuse and related cover-ups (AFP Photo/Andreas SOLARO)

Santiago (AFP) - Chile is now investigating 158 members of the country's embattled Catholic Church -- both clergymen and lay people -- for perpetrating or concealing the sexual abuse of children and adults, prosecutors said Monday.

The cases relate to incidents dating back as far as 1960 and involving 266 victims, including 178 children and adolescents, according to public prosecutor Luis Torres.

The prosecutor's statement offered the first general view of the extent and scope of the abuse scandal faced by Chile's Catholic Church -- and how many people are implicated.

Last month, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops amid accusations of abuse and related cover-ups.

"The vast majority of reported incidents relate to sexual crimes committed by priests or people linked to educational establishments," Torres told reporters.

The entire strata of the Catholic church -- from bishops to monks -- were involved in the crimes, as well as "lay people exercising some function in the ecclesiastical sphere," he noted.

In May, the entire Chilean hierarchy of bishops had tendered their resignations over the abuse scandal rocking the Church.

Since 2000, about 80 Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse.

Ten days ago, prominent priest Oscar Munoz was arrested over allegations of sexual abuse and rape of at least seven children.

Pope Francis has repeatedly apologized to parishioners over the scandal, admitting the Church failed "to listen and react" to allegations spanning decades, but vowed to "restore justice."

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