Uruguay's Roman Catholic Church said it is ashamed over the "abhorrent acts" committed by its priests who were accused of sexually abusing three persons who were in their teens 20 years ago even as it made a public apology for their acts.
In a letter on its website, the church denounced the acts, lamenting that the crimes went unpunished because the statute of limitation has elapsed, the Associated Press reports.
"We all know how, unfortunately, acts like these have been denounced for years in several countries, but they can never be justified within the church," the letter said, adding that the predator priests must be held responsible before "God and the courts."
Assistant Bishop Milton Troccoli, the spokesman of the Church's Episcopal Conference, said the church conducted an investigation after it received the reports a year ago.
According to him, the allegations had led one man to leave the priesthood and another was removed after the inquiry.
"They happened some 20 years ago, but we only received the complaints last year," Troccoli said.
He noted that even if criminal charges were filed against the two cases, it was already too late because the statute of limitations has already expired.
Moreover, he said the victim in the third case does not anymore want to pursue the case.
Troccoli said the scandal has led the Uruguayan Episcopal Conference to set up a hotline to receive any other reports of priestly abuse.
In 1996, a court in Uruguay sentenced priest Adolfo Antelo to prison for physically and sexually abusing followers of the Jerusalem Community, a Catholic cult that he led. Antelo died a year later while under house arrest.
Bishops in Uruguay banned the community from the country but the Vatican allowed it to continue operating in other countries under a different name, according to AP.