SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's bishops publicly asked forgiveness for clergy sexual abuse and pledged to handle such cases differently in the future.
In a statement issued April 8, after its annual plenary assembly, the Chilean bishops' conference said it had not "always reacted quickly and efficiently to accusations" of sexual abuse.
"We express our closeness and solidarity with the victims of these abuses and their families and make their suffering ours," the bishops wrote. "We humbly offer them our request for forgiveness, the support we can provide and our prayers."
The statement explicitly refers to the case of Father Fernando Karadima, 80, whom the Vatican ordered in February to "retire to a life of prayer and penitence" for sexually abusing minors. The bishops said the sanction imposed on Father Karadima by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "will encourage us to persevere in the way of transparency, truth and justice."
To address what they called "this type of aberrant crime," the bishops said they were revising their procedures for handling abuse cases and pledged to establish a commission to "guide and direct our policies for prevention of sexual abuse and assistance to victims."
Those policies will include psychological and spiritual counseling for victims and a prevention program to train church workers to recognize and respond to signs of abuse in children and youth and "create safe and healthy environments."
The bishops said children "must also be taught to recognize situations of possible abuse."
The first accusations against Father Karadima, who is accused of having molested four young men, were made public in 2005, but the church did not begin investigating the well-known and influential priest until 2010.
While his case has attracted the most media attention, the bishops wrote that "it pains and concerns us that other consecrated persons are being involved in alleged abuse of minors, an abominable sin for the Christian conscience."
At least six other priests have been convicted or indicted in sexual abuse cases in Chile.