Bolivian Catholic priest detained on suspicion of abusing seminary students amid pedophilia scandal

LA PAZ, Bolivia — A Bolivian priest has been detained on suspicion of abusing seminary students a decade ago in a case that came to light in the wake of a pedophilia scandal involving a late Jesuit priest in the Andean country.

Catholic priest Milton Murillo was remanded for three months at the San Roque church in the southern Tarija region during a hearing late Thursday, regional prosecutor Sandra Gutiérrez Salazar said.

“With this, we want to express that the Prosecutor’s Office will take strict measures to ensure that these crimes are punished,” he told reporters on Friday.

The Murillo case came to a head in part because of the scandal that erupted earlier this month over Spanish Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas. Pedrajas died of cancer in 2009 and left behind a personal diary in which he admitted to abusing about 85 minors in Catholic boarding schools in Bolivia in the 1970s and 1980s, as reported by the Spanish newspaper El País.

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The Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus apologized and pledged to support any investigation stemming from the Pedrajas case.

Prosecutors have called on Pedrajas’ victims and other priests to testify as authorities also investigate whether there was a cover-up. Although Murillo’s abuse had been reported before, new testimony from the alleged victims helped lead to his arrest.

The Bolivian government announced this week that it would create a Judicial Commission to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse and said it was pushing for a law that would end the statute of limitations on such crimes.

“This horror cannot be repeated; there is no statute of limitations for these crimes, whether committed by priests or by anyone else,” said María Nela Prada, Minister of the Bolivian Presidency.

A small group of people gathered outside the archbishop’s palace in downtown La Paz to demand justice for sexual abuse allegations by church authorities.

“We’re over it,” Alejandra Casas said as she protested Friday. “We know that the Catholic Church covers up cases.”

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Although there have been several allegations of pedophilia involving priests in the Andean nation, human rights groups say few have been properly investigated so far.

The Child Rights International Network, one of the organizations that has done extensive work on pedophilia cases involving religious authorities, said in a 2019 report that there had been only three convictions, including a priest convicted of abusing 30 children in a poor house. rural town in the central region of Cochabamba.