Chilean bishops and prosecutors to share intel on sex abuse investigations

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chilean bishops and prosecutors signed an agreement to streamline criminal investigations of sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic Church, the public ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. The cooperation agreement facilitates the exchange of information around cases involving the abuse of children and handicapped people, while protecting the identities of victims and witnesses. Chile's Bishops Conference, the church's leadership arm in the South American nation, agreed to send evidence of any abuse-related crime to prosecutors within 24 hours provided state investigators protected their identities, according to the statement. The Chilean Catholic Church was engulfed by scandal after a visit by the pope in January last year that brought to the surface a string of abuse allegations now being investigated by criminal prosecutors. Chile's public ministry said it is currently investigating 166 cases of sexual abuse or cover-up involving 221 suspects and 248 victims. (Reporting by Natalia Ramos; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Sandra Maler)