SANTIAGO – Authorities raided the office of the bishop to the armed services on Thursday as part of investigations into accusations that senior Roman Catholic Church officials covered up claims of sexual abuse by clergymen in Chile.
The raid on the office of Santiago Silva had been conducted by court order and authorized by the defense minister and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, according to a provincial prosecutor leading the investigations.
Silva is also president of the Chilean bishops’ conference.
Emiliano Arias told Reuter that a prosecutor accompanied by military officials had seized documents related to complaints made over 20 years to Silva and his predecessor, former bishop Juan Barros, about sexual abuse by clerics operating inside or outside the armed forces.
Silva’s office has yet to comment on the raid.
A series of police raids on Chilean chanceries and other Church properties took place in June and July. A pair of raids on chanceries in Santiago and Managua on June 13 led to the arrest of sex abuser Fr. Óscar Muñoz Toledo — who had admitted abusing minors to Church officials in January.
In the weeks that many followed, there were five other police raids targeting Church properties in Chile, seeking to find evidence pertaining to allegations of clerical sex abuse.
Now, the Chilean bishops claim they will cooperate with law enforcement. In a press conference Aug. 3 in Punta de Tralca, the president of the bishops’ conference, Santiago Silva, said, “Here there’s one key criteria: total disposition to cooperate with the prosecutors. On the basis of this bottom line, we’re trying to reach agreement.”
During that press conference, Bishop Silva also issued an apology: “We have failed in our role as pastors, for not having listened, believed, attended or accompanied the victims of grave sins and injustices committed by priests and religious.”
In Chile today, there are currently 37 open cases of sex abuse by Catholic clergy.
Pope Francis was in hot water in January during a trip to Latin America when he defended Bp. Juan Barros, a Chilean prelate accused of protecting a predator priest as a monsignor. There was immediate backlash to the Pope’s comments. In the months that followed, the Pope changed his tone drastically on Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal. He instructed Church officials to conduct investigations into the sex abuse allegations in Chile and summoned Chile’s bishops to the Vatican for an emergency meeting.
During the emergency meeting in Rome in May, all the Chilean prelates offered their resignations to the Holy Father. He accepted the resignations of a few who were particularly culpable of covering up sex abuse.