PUNTA DE TRALCA: Chilean Catholic bishops apologized on Friday for having "failed" victims of sexual abuse and promised to work with prosecutors to prevent a repeat of the crimes dating back five decades.
"We failed in our duty as pastors by not listening to, believing, caring for or accompanying the victims of terrible sins and injustices committed by priests and religious lay people," the Church said in a statement at the end of five days of meetings by Chile's Episcopal Conference.
"For this we apologize first and foremost to the victims and survivors."
Last week, Chilean prosecutors said they were investigating 158 members of the church, both priests and lay people.
The cases related back as far as the 1960s and involved 266 victims, including 178 children and adolescents.
Pope Francis has already apologized repeatedly to Chileans over the scandal, admitting the Church failed "to listen and react" to the allegations, but vowed to "restore justice."
Episcopal Conference president Santiago Silva announced on Friday a series of measures to "at least begin to resolve the serious problem we have in the Church."
In an attempt to douse the fires of the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church in the South American country over the deluge of accusations against clergy, bishops have decided to publically disclose the previous investigations on alleged sexual abuse of minors.
Previously, bishops had insisted that canonical law prevail over criminal law.
Juan Carlos Claret, the leader of a campaign group that opposed the Catholic Church's policy of transferring priests accused of abuse rather than sacking or turning them over to judicial authorities, told AFP last week that the Episcopal Conference already knew about 120 priests involved in sexual abuse in 2007.
"Today is a before and after, a turning point," said the general secretary of the Episcopal Conference, Monsignor Fernando Ramos.
Bishops have decided to create a prevention of abuse department and appointed a lawyer to head their abuse prevention and victim support council.
They also committed to meet "personally" with abuse victims and adopt a "self-critical" view of the structures that "allowed the occurrence and perpetuation of abuse in the church so that these things are never repeated."
However they admitted that these measures do not by themselves "solve the dramatic scourge of abuse in our church and their complex causes and roots."
In May, the entire Chilean hierarchy of bishops tendered their resignations over the pedophile priests scandal.
Since 2000, about 80 Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse.