Pope sends Vatican official to Bolivia as abuse allegations escalate

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Pope Francis has sent a leading sex crimes investigator to Bolivia at a time when the Andean nation is rocked by a pedophilia scandal involving priests.

Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, a senior member of the Church’s Theological Dicastery, arrived in Bolivia the same day a former Jesuit seminarian landed in the country and promised to reveal more information about the alleged abuses.

According to the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, Bertomeu’s visit is not directly related to recent sexual abuse allegations, but was previously planned to analyze “progress in the culture of prevention” promoted by the Vatican.

Bertomeu came to Bolivia from Paraguay, where he investigated similar allegations against church officials, and in 2018 he led the investigation into the abuse of minors by priests in Chile.

According to the statement of the Bishops’ Conference, the gatherings in Bolivia will be held “in an atmosphere where there is a deep closeness to all those who have been victims of church abuse.

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Bertomeu “has great confidence in Pope Francis, who is responsible for dealing with these issues, and he is coming to give guidance on how we can deal with this issue, listen and support the victims,” ​​Monsignor Giovani Arana said. Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference.

The visit came shortly after the case of Spanish Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas became public. According to a private diary accessed by Spanish newspaper El País, Pedrajas allegedly abused 85 minors in Catholic boarding schools in Bolivia in the 1970s and 1980s. He died of cancer in 2009.

The public prosecutor’s office launched a confidential investigation and called on the victims to file a report.

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

Pedro Lima, a former Bolivian Jesuit seminarian who is considered an important witness, has vowed to cooperate with the investigation. His arrival in Bolivia coincides with the arrival of Bertomeu.

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“I am not only a witness, but also a victim of abuses of power, sexual abuse and abuse of conscience by the Jesuit Society of Bolivia,” Lima said Monday as she arrived in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, to testify before prosecutors. Office.

In a press conference, Lima accused three Jesuits of covering up the alleged abuses.

“An apology is not enough, these abuses cannot go unpunished. They should receive compensation for the victims and I am here to ensure that these painful incidents never happen again,” said Lima, who declined to provide details of the alleged abuse she suffered.

Lima’s claims were challenged by Jesuit lawyer Audalia Zurita, who said Lima “held a position of power” to denounce alleged abuses when she was a member of the Constituent Assembly in 2006 and 2007, which reformed Bolivia’s constitution but failed to do so. like this.

Lima left the Jesuit Society in 2001, where he taught in schools and boarding houses, and turned to politics. He left the country in 2012, citing “political persecution” by the Movement Toward Socialism party, and sought refuge with the Jesuits in Paraguay, where he worked until recently.

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“Of course I worked with the Jesuits in Paraguay. Just because I worked with them doesn’t mean I have to stay quiet…when I wanted to report it, they said there was no victim, there was no evidence,” he said.

The case of Pedrajas also brought to light other previously unsolved cases. Prosecutor Wilfredo Chávez stated that “there are 23 priests involved in pedophilia in the country,” including one who was remanded in custody for three months last week.

Since the Pedrajas case came to light, there have been isolated protests in some churches and Catholic schools in Bolivia.

Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/pope-sends-vatican-official-bolivia-abuse-allegations-escalate-99525694