Chile has investigated 158 members of the country's Roman Catholic Church for committing or covering up sexual abuse against minors and adults, the national prosecutor's office said Monday.
The investigations include reports of abuse by bishops, clerics and lay workers filed since 2000. Some of the cases date as far back as 1960.
In all, the number of victims is 266. That includes 178 children and teenagers, and 31 adults. The age of victims was not established in 57 other cases.
The nationwide figures follow an avalanche of sex abuse and cover-up cases that have recently embattled Chile's Catholic Church and prompted Pope Francis earlier this year to publicly denounce a "culture of abuse and cover-up."
Public prosecutor Luis Torres' statement offered the first general view of the extent and scope of the abuse scandal faced by Chile's Catholic Church – and how many people are implicated.
Last month, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of five Chilean bishops amid accusations of abuse and related cover-ups.
"The vast majority of reported incidents relate to sexual crimes committed by priests or people linked to educational establishments," Torres told reporters.
The entire strata of the Catholic Church – from bishops to monks – were involved in the crimes, as well as "lay people exercising some function in the ecclesiastical sphere," he noted.
There are 36 ongoing investigations, while 23 previous ones resulted in convictions and one other in an acquittal.
"There's no doubt that what the public prosecutor is doing is very positive and is starting to open the door to situations that previously were treated as an open secret," said Juan Carlos Claret, a member of a campaign group that opposed the presence of tainted bishop Juan Barros in his area.
Barros is accused of covering for a paedophile priest and Francis was forced to apologise earlier this year for having hugged and defended the bishop on a visit to Chile in January.
Francis had named Barros to head the Osorno diocese, where Claret lives, in 2015 despite accusations by sex abuse victims that the prelate covered up the actions of disgraced paedophile priest Fernando Karadima in the 1980s and 1990s.
According to Claret, the Chilean Episcopal Conference already knew in 2007 about 120 priests involved in sexual abuse. He says that means there must be more people involved than the number revealed by prosecutors on Monday.
"Some information is still being held back," added Claret, a leading voice in denouncing the clerical abuse of children in the country that led Francis to overhaul Chile's Catholic Church.
Karadima has been suspended for life by the Vatican but never faced prosecution in Chile because the statute of limitations had elapsed by the time a case was opened in 2010.
Earlier that year, he had been found guilty of sexually abusing children by the Vatican, which sentenced him to a life of prayer and ordered him to pay compensation.
The pope recently said he was ashamed that neither he nor Chilean church leaders truly ever listened to victims as the country's abuse scandal spiralled.
"The temptation would be to focus on those investigated within the Church, but today we must first focus on the number of victims, which is what worries us," the Chilean church's Episcopal Conference said in a statement after the report was released.
In the past, prosecutors in Chile have had to drop charges against members of the clergy accused of sex abuse because the statute of limitations had expired.
But the national prosecutor's office said it wants to "rigorously investigate all sex abuse case cases committed by priests or people related to the Church" against children and adults, "regardless of whether the crimes have prescribed or not, because the victims have a right to be heard by the justice system."
The report said that out of the 158 people investigated in 144 separate investigations, 65 are bishops, priests or deacons who belong to a congregation; 74 do not belong to any congregation; 10 are lay persons in charge of pastoral parishes or linked to schools; and nine were undetermined.
Authorities said 36 of the 144 cases are currently being investigated, and 22 have been sent to another judicial office because the alleged crimes were committed before a judicial reform in 2000. Another 22 cases have resulted in convictions, while 64 cases have been either closed or temporarily suspended for various reasons.
Prosecutors said the vast majority of the sexual abuse crimes were committed by parish priests connected to an educational establishment. There are at least five cases where the heads of congregations or bishops in charge of a diocese are accused of cover-up or obstruction of an investigation.
"The prosecutor's announcement is the latest sign that the impunity of the Catholic Church is ending in Chile. Increasingly, Chilean bishops and clergy are being treated simply as fellow citizens, subject to secular laws," said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a US-based group that compiles a database of clergy abuse.
"Today's report will encourage more Chilean victims to file complaints. Each complaint filed will lead to a safer church."
For decades, victims and their advocates have pointed to the hierarchy's culture of cover-up as the Vatican's main failure in dealing with the problem.
But Francis apparently came around to their view after meeting earlier this year with Karadima's victims and reading a 2,300-page report prepared for him by Vatican investigators, who also interviewed victims of the notorious paedophile priest and others in Chile.
In May, the entire Chilean hierarchy of bishops tendered their resignations over the abuse scandal rocking the Church.
Since 2000, about 80 Catholic priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse.
Ten days ago, prominent priest Oscar Muñoz was arrested over allegations of sexual abuse and rape of at least seven children.
Francis has repeatedly apologised to parishioners over the scandal, admitting the Church failed "to listen and react" to allegations spanning decades, but vowed to "restore justice."