Chilean authorities raided four dioceses on Thursday as part of an investigation into clerical sex abuse of minors and alleged cover-ups by bishops.
Prosecutors said the surprise raids took place at the dioceses of Valparaiso, Chillan, Osorno, and Concepcion. Images published by local media showed authorities walking out from the buildings after seizing documents.
The raids come as the Catholic Church tries to recover from its poor handling of the sex abuse scandal in the Chilean church, triggered earlier this year when Pope Francis repeatedly discredited victims of a notorious predator priest. Francis eventually admitted to “grave errors in judgment” and took steps to make amends, including securing offers of resignation from every active member of Chile’s bishops’ conference.
Prosecutor Emiliano Arias ordered the latest searches. He is leading about 20 investigations about alleged sex abuse of minors involving a group of priests in the city of Rancagua. He is also probing the alleged rape of at least four minors by a former member of the Santiago diocese.
Last month, authorities raided the headquarters of Chile’s bishops’ conference as part of a probe into abuse committed by members of the Marist Brothers order. In addition, Chilean prosecutors recently summoned the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, to appear in court and testify about the alleged cover-up of years of abuse.
Prosecutors say there are 119 ongoing probes into clerical sex abuse of minors. So far, 167 people have been accused, including seven bishops and 96 priests.