SANTIAGO – Police in Chile’s capital city have arrested a former Roman Catholic Church official for sexually abusing children, according to a state prosecutor.
Oscar Muñoz, who served as chancellor of the archdiocese of Santiago, confessed in January to church authorities that he sexually abused at least five children, according to Prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who ordered his arrest in the capital on Thursday.
The arrest was the first since authorities launched a major investigation this year into cases of abuse within Chile’s Catholic Church, which Vatican officials accused in February of “grave negligence” and a cover-up in its handling of sex abuse allegations.
“The crimes he is accused of are of repeated sexual abuse and one case of a consenting relationship with an older minor,” Arias said, speaking outside Santiago’s cathedral. The prosecutor told reporters that Muñoz had been responsible for receiving allegations of abuse within the church.
“There are more than five victims. I hope this investigation will allow me to find more victims because they deserve proper treatment.”
The prosecutor conducted raids on church offices and seized documents in Santiago and the southern city of Rancagua last month as part of his investigation. Fourteen priests in the region are accused of performing sexual acts on minors.
Police confirmed that they had seized further evidence from the Santiago archbishop’s offices and the church’s ecclesiastical tribunal on Thursday.
The raids were the latest chapter in a long-running scandal surrounding the suspected sexual misconduct of Catholic clergy in Chile.
Pope Francis became involved in the scandal surrounding Juan Barros when he defended the bishop during his visit to Chile in January. At the time he said that allegations against the bishop amounted to “slander”.
He later apologized to victims, saying: “I apologize to them if I hurt them without realizing it, but it was a wound that I inflicted without meaning to.”
About 80 Roman Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse over the past 18 years.
Under Pope Francis, a Vatican committee has been set up to fight sexual abuse and help victims.
In January this year, the Vatican sent its top sex crimes investigator to Chile to look into claims of abuse. Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu produced a 2,300-page report on allegations that bishops in Chile were silent as priests raped and molested children.
All of the active Catholic bishops in Chile offered to resign in the wake of the scandal.
Last month, Pope Francis began accepting those resignations, starting with Barros and two others. The Pope previously met with abuse victims and asked for their forgiveness.