Bolivia’s Catholic Church admits it is “turning a deaf ear” to victims of sexual abuse

The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia admit that the institution was deaf to the suffering of victims of sexual abuse at a time when the country was rocked by the pedophilia scandal involving priests.

ByCARLOS VALDEZ Associated Press

Bolivian priest abuse

People hold signs to protest sexual abuse by a priest in front of the Bolivian archbishop’s office in La Paz, Bolivia, Friday, May 19, 2023. Bolivian priest Milton Murillo has been remanded in custody for abusing seminarians a decade ago. after the news broke about the biggest pedophilia scandal in the history of the Andean country, in which the deceased Jesuit priest was also involved. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

The Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia — The leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia acknowledged on Wednesday that the church had turned a deaf ear to the suffering of victims of sexual abuse, commenting that the pedophilia scandal involving priests had rocked the country.

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The Andean nation’s Catholic bishops said in a statement that “as a church, we are facing a painful moment … because we are certain that we have directly or indirectly participated in the deep pain caused to innocent victims.”

The statement is part of the fallout from the case of the late Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas. According to a private diary accessed by the Spanish newspaper El PaĆ­s, Pedrajas allegedly abused dozens of minors at Catholic boarding schools in Bolivia in the 1970s and 1980s. He died of cancer in 2009.

Jordi Bertemeu, one of the Vatican’s leading sexual crime investigators, arrived in Bolivia at the beginning of the week.

The bishops said that while “we know there is no way to compensate for the damage caused, we are committed to doing everything in our power to … seek reparation, with the support of professionals who provide assistance and help heal wounds and scars.”

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The prosecutor’s office launched an investigation – which remains confidential – and called on the victims to testify. As a result of the investigation, new cases of sexual abuse were uncovered, and earlier this month a priest was placed in pretrial detention for three months.

Bolivian President Luis Arce sent a letter to Pope Francis earlier this week asking the church to release documents related to sexual abuse by Bolivian priests.

In the letter, Arce calls on the church authorities to “move from statements to concrete measures to prevent impunity”.

In their statement, the Bolivian bishops said the church would set up two commissions to “determine responsibilities.” They promised to update, saying they would “contribute to the transparent investigation of the judiciary”.

The Jesuit Society of Bolivia previously apologized to the victims and pledged to support the investigation, while condemning Pedrajas’ superiors for the alleged cover-up. Many of the selected persons are no longer in office or have died.

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