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Page last updated at 07:59 GMT, Saturday, 24 April 2010 08:59 UK

Leaders meet as Church sex abuse cases grip Chile

A screen grab of the Vatican's website, showing the link to guidance on handing child sex abuse cases
The Vatican website now has a page on dealing with sex abuse

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Chile have met the country's president amid a growing sex abuse scandal involving a number of priests.

Earlier this week, the Church in Chile formally apologised to abuse victims, saying nothing could justify it.

Monsignor Alejandro Goic, head of the Church in Chile, said there had been 20 confirmed or alleged cases.

Sex abuse scandals have gripped the Church worldwide this year, with a Belgian bishop resigning on Friday.

In Chile, this has been the toughest week yet for the Church since allegations first arose over widespread child abuse, the BBC's Gideon Long reports from the capital, Santiago.

Chile is regarded as one of the most staunchly Catholic countries in Latin America, he notes. Divorce was outlawed until as recently as 2004 and abortion remains strictly illegal.

As elsewhere in the world, the current scandal is testing the faith of the country's Roman Catholic believers, our correspondent says.

Investigation

Monsignor Goic and the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, met President Sebastian Pinera for more than an hour.

Afterwards, Cardinal Errazuriz said he would send a letter out to every parish in the country this weekend in response to the scandal.

In five of the cases in Chile, sentences were imposed. In another five, trials are under way and, in the remaining 10, the priests have been absolved or results are pending.

In one of the cases, four men accused a senior priest in Santiago, now aged 80, of sexually abusing them for years.

Prosecutors in Chile have launched an investigation into the allegations against the cleric, Fr Fernando Karadima, a respected and influential figure within the Chilean Church who trained priests.

A lawyer for the retired priest was quoted by the New York Times as denying the allegations.

On Friday, it was announced that the bishop of the Belgian city of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, had resigned after admitting sexually abusing a boy earlier in his career.

The Belgian case marked a new escalation in the scandal buffeting the Church, the BBC's David Willey reported from Rome.

It was the first time that a senior churchman had admitted in person abusing a child, our Rome correspondent said.



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