The number of cases of abuse in Chile's Roman Catholic Church under investigation by prosecutors has more than tripled to 119 in the past month, the national prosecuting authority said on Friday.
Among the 167 people under investigation are seven bishops and 96 priests, accused of unspecified abuses of 178 alleged victims, including 79 minors, the authority said.
Pope Francis originally dismissed allegations of large-scale clerical abuse in Chile as 'slander'. (Reuters)
A report from the authority sent to journalists on Friday did not specify the type of abuse but clergy have been accused by prosecutors of sexually abusing members of their congregations or covering up abuse.
The prosecuting authority did not respond to request for comment.
In July civil prosecutors referred to 36 investigations involving an unspecified number of priests and bishops.
In May, Pope Francis summoned Chile's 34 bishops to Rome following a report by the Vatican's senior sex abuse investigator that accused them of 'grave negligence' in investigating allegations that children had been abused and suggested evidence of sex crimes had been destroyed.
Chile is one of several countries including the US and Ireland where the Catholic Church is under huge pressure because of decades-long safeguarding failures. Despite his declared 'zero tolerance' policy towards abuse by clergy, Pope Francis himself has come under attack from a former senior Vatican figure, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who said Francis had covered up wrongdoing by former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington DC. The pope has refused to respond to the allegations, saying he 'would not say one word' about them, and Vigano's credibility has been attacked by his supporters.
This article was originally published in Christian Today and is re-published here with permission.