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Chilean cardinal goes before prosecutor in sex abuse probe

FILE - In this May 18, 2018 file photo, the archbishop of Santiago, Ricardo Ezzati, gives his first mass after returning from the Vatican, in Santiago. Chile's Catholic church is apologizing for a set of guidelines published on Friday, Sept. 28, that have caused outrage just as the South American country is being rocked by a widespread clerical sex abuse scandal. (AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo, File)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The archbishop of the Chilean capital went before a local prosecutor Wednesday but declined to testify as a defendant about allegations he covered up years of child sex abuse committed by clerics and officials of the country’s Catholic Church.

Television images showed a smiling Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati walking into the prosecutor’s office in the city of Rancagua wearing a Roman collar while heavily guarded by police officers and surrounded by journalists. His lawyer said Ezzati used his right to remain silent about allegations he covered up abuse committed by his top deputy, the Rev. Oscar Munoz.

“The cardinal was summoned as a defendant accused of being part of covering up serious crimes,” attorney Hugo Rivera said. “There is no serious element that prompted (prosecutors) to summon him as a defendant,”

“We want to discuss with transparency all the elements so society can fully see the evidence at a public hearing,” Rivera added.

The investigation is based on evidence collected by Chilean authorities during recent raids on the ecclesiastical court of the diocese of Santiago and other church buildings.

Munoz has admitted to abusing at least one minor, and confessed to church authorities in December. Prosecutors, however, uncovered reports that the Santiago archdiocese had documented cases of at least four more victims abused by Munoz.

Ezzati has said he knew nothing of the abuse before Munoz came forward.

Chile’s clerical sex abuse scandal was inflamed earlier this year when Pope Francis repeatedly discredited victims of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, the country’s most notorious predator priest.

Francis eventually recognized “grave errors in judgment.” He secured offers of resignation from every active member of Chile’s bishops’ conference and recently defrocked Karadima.

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