SANTIAGO, Chile – Authorities arrested a priest Thursday on accusations of sexually abusing minors, the latest turn in a scandal engulfing Chile’s Roman Catholic Church for having covered up abuses for decades.
Oscar Munoz Toledo, a priest who was once the chancellor of Santiago’s archbishopric, was arrested by police on the orders of prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who is investigating 14 other suspended priests in the southern diocese of Rancagua for allegedly participating in a network of abuse.
Munoz is accused of the abuse and statutory rape of seven minors, and Arias did not rule out that there were more victims. Munoz, who reported himself in January for a case of abuse, was scheduled to be taken to court Friday. Authorities are investigating whether he had accomplices.
Munoz, 56, is the first active priest arrested for sexual abuse since March, when a report ordered by Pope Francis revealed a culture of abuse and cover-ups for decades in Chile’s church. If he is found guilty, Munoz could be sentenced to prison.
His arrest came one month after prosecutors raided the diocese of Rancagua, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Santiago, along with the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Santiago’s archbishopric, to seize material related to the scandal. On Thursday, Arias ordered a new raid on the Santiago offices.
Munoz was vice chancellor for Bishop Emeritus Francisco Javier Errazuriz, and then in 2011 he was promoted to be chancellor Ricardo Ezzati, the current archbishop of Santiago. Both have been accused by victims of covering up the crimes of pedophile priest Fernando Karadima.
Speaking about Munoz, Ezzati said he felt “a great pain for him, for his family and for the victims.”
The father of one of Munoz’s alleged victims declared in January that his son was underage when he suffered “a couple of inappropriate touches, caresses. There was never sex, but there were provocations or insinuations that it should happen.”
The scandal battering the Chilean church reached the point where in May, 31 bishops offered their resignation to the pope. So far Francis has accepted the resignations of five bishops.