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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church in Chile on Tuesday said there had been 20 confirmed or alleged cases of child abuse by priests, and asked for forgiveness from the victims.
Monsignor Alejandro Goic, head of Chile's bishops' conference, said that in five of the cases sentences had been imposed, in another five trials were still under way, and in 10 others priests had been absolved or results were pending.
The wider Catholic Church has been buffeted in recent years by scandals involving sexual abuse of children -- most of them boys -- by priests. There also have been allegations of cover-ups and even suggestions that Pope Benedict mishandled cases when he was a bishop in Germany and a Vatican official before his election in 2005.
"There is no place in the priesthood for those who abuse minors, and there is nothing that can justify this crime," Goic said, reading a statement after an assembly of Chile's Episcopal Conference.
"To those people directly affected and to the communities in Chile which have seen reason for scandal in a priest, we ask them for forgiveness and call on them to communicate those facts," he added. "It is our total pledge to constantly watch out to ensure these grave crimes are not repeated."
Goic's comments come after the Pope on Monday marked five years as the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics by calling his church a "wounded sinner."
(Reporting by Juana Casas and Simon Gardner; Editing by Eric Walsh)