Bolivian bishops express pain over serial sexual abuse by Jesuit priest

crucifix Credit: Cathopic

An investigation by the Spanish newspaper El Pais has revealed that the Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, who died in 2009, sexually abused as many as 85 boys and adolescents in the 1970s and 1980s and recorded the incidents in a secret diary as “blunders,” and that the Jesuits covered it up.

A nephew of Pedrajas found the diary and contacted the Society of Jesus in Bolivia to file a complaint, and then went to the Spanish prosecutor’s office, which dismissed the case for having passed the statute of limitations, El Pais reported.

The journalistic investigation also compiled testimonies from alleged victims and relatives.

According to a May 9 report by El País, the priest disclosed the alleged abuses to at least seven provincial superiors and some 10 Bolivian and Spanish clergy members.

The Bolivian state attorney general’s office announced on Monday that it will investigate the incidents linked to the Spanish Jesuit.

The state general prosecutor, Wilfredo Chávez, announced on social media that the background information will be requested “via the consular, so that this very serious occurrence can be investigated in Bolivia.”

The Jesuits in Bolivia have assured their willingness to collaborate with the authorities in the investigations. “The abuses have caused a deep wound in the victims and the complaints cannot be ignored, even though the priest involved in the incidents has died,” they stated.

The Society of Jesus in Bolivia has begun an investigation to determine if several of its members who served as superiors at the time of the abuse had covered it up. The Jesuits also removed them from their positions.

In addition, the order will also suspend other Jesuits who served as provincials in the years following the death of Pedrajas, “to investigate whether there were public complaints not addressed at the time.”

The Society of Jesus expressed its repudiation of the acts committed by the priest and reiterated its policy of “zero tolerance” for abuse.

The order also announced that a commission of experts, which has been working since 2022, will investigate the cases, “which can create hope for justice for the victims, whose situation has shamed us and caused indignation and sadness.” The Jesuits also asked “forgiveness for the pain caused.”

In 1971, Father Pedrajas Moreno, nicknamed “Pica,” became assistant principal of the John XXIII School in the city of Cochabamba, and three years later he was appointed principal. He also worked in San Calixto School, the San Simón de Ayacucho National School, and in the Juvenile Correctional Facility in La Paz.

Before settling in Bolivia, he worked between 1961 and 1971 in schools in Peru and Ecuador.

The bishops’ response

The bishops of Bolivia also released a statement reiterating their “zero tolerance” policy, and this past Sunday several bishops, including the archbishop of Santa Cruz, René Leigue Cesarí, addressed the scandal in their homilies.

The prelate called for the case to “be investigated as it should be, that justice be done... that it not be politicized and that the Church not be stigmatized.”

“Every error, every crime must be investigated and justice must be done,” Leigue Cesarí added.

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The president of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference and apostolic vicar of Beni, Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, expressed “great pain” on behalf of the Church for “the crimes of one of her children” and regretted the comments and opinions “of all kinds” that arose as a result of the case and that aroused feelings of hatred against the Church.

Alluding to the Gospel, which recalls that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, Pesoa asked the faithful to embark on a path of purification in the Church “with the courage to be able to travel that path to find the truth and the life.”

In addition, he asked the Holy Spirit to “strengthen faith and life so that no one is discouraged in the face of these events” and that God “would help us to commit ourselves to defend what is good.”

The archbishop of Cochabamba, Oscar Aparicio, also urged the faithful to pray: “In this critical time that the Church and the Jesuit congregation are experiencing, we must remain in prayer, not let ourselves be carried away, [and] on the contrary, pray.”

Archbishop Percy Galván of La Paz, the capital, said that the Church in Bolivia “bleeds with pain” over the case of Father Pedrajas.

“We are not made of stone; it hurts,” he said, but he stressed the importance of correcting and making things right wherever needed.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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