By Alvaro Murillo

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - The Catholic Church in Costa Rica on Friday asked for forgiveness following recent accusations that three of its priests sexually abused minors, amid a clerical abuse scandal that has ravaged the institution's credibility around the globe.

"Without wanting to judge the past, we humbly admit that due attention has not always been given to these crimes, nor the victims or their families," the Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica said in a statement.

"We the bishops and all of God's people ask for forgiveness for these crimes that have gravely damaged the youngest of the Lord's flock," the bishops said.

The bishops met this week to discuss how to address the pedophilia accusations, which were reported by local media, against the three priests. Two of those accusations are being investigated by the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Two men have accused San Jose Archbishop Jose Rafael Quiros, who presides over the Episcopal Conference, of helping to protect Mauricio Viquez, one of the priests accused of sexual abuse.

A Costa Rican judge ordered in February an international warrant for Viquez's arrest after he abandoned the Central American nation. Quiros said at the time he did not know of Viquez's whereabouts.

Costa Rican police on March 7 carried out raids on church offices in San Jose and retrieved documents.

Quiros, along with six other bishops, said in a statement, "We are now more aware of the grave problem that the sexual abuse of minors constitutes."

The bishops promised to protect minors, take sexual abuse accusations more seriously, and better vet priests.

Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, ended a conference on sexual abuse in February by calling for an "all-out battle" against a crime that should be "erased from the face of the earth"

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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