Bolivia Jesuits ask victims of two priests implicated in scandal to make formal complaint

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In the developing sexual abuse of minors scandal involving Jesuits in Bolivia, a May 13 article in the Spanish newspaper El País implicated two other priests, Francesc Peris and Carlos Villamil, and also published the testimonies of eight alleged victims.

The Jesuits asked the victims to make a formal complaint with the Society of Jesus and offered their assistance in filing a complaint with the public prosecutor. 

El País broke the initial story on the scandal April 29 in a report titled “Diary of a pedophile priest,” stating that Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, who died in 2009, sexually abused as many as 85 minors in Bolivia, based on admissions found in his own diary.

Peris, known as “Checho,” and Villamil, nicknamed “Vicu,” allegedly committed the abuse in the 1980s when both priests worked at the John XXIII school in Cochabamba, where Pedrajas also worked.

Villamil was a colleague of Pedrajas and was considered his friend. He worked as assistant principal of the school from 1977–1978 and later took over as principal from 1983-1984. The priest, who died in January, was accused of sexual abuse while working at the boarding school.

“We invite the possible victims of these or other Jesuits to formalize their complaints, offering them all our solidarity and professional accompaniment in psychology and law to support them in filing them with the prosecutor's office,” the congregation said in a statement released May 17.

The Society of Jesus reported that to date it “has not received any direct complaint from the victims of these priests” despite the fact that both “appear mentioned in the context of the complaints and investigations carried out in the Pedrajas case, as stated in the documentation presented by the Society of Jesus itself to the prosecutor’s office.”

Peris allegedly sexually assaulted girls. A woman in her 50s related to El País the abuse committed against her when she was 14 and referred to the cases of other classmates.

“For several weeks I’ve had a hurting heart, but with the strength to speak: Pedrajas was not the only one who abused girls at school; there were other Jesuits who did it to girls,” the woman told the Spanish newspaper.

In the last week, complaints of abuse were filed with the Bolivian Public Prosecutor’s Office against Jesuit Father Luis María Roma Padrosa and Archbishop Alejandro Mestre, also a Jesuit.

Both complaints were filed by former Jesuit provincial Osvaldo Chirveches.

“There are two cases that we had already investigated, we have already received the response from the General Curia and we have already published the results,” Chirveches explained. The next step is for the prosecutor’s office to work with the material from these investigations.

The Bolivian state attorney general, Juan Lanchipa Ponce, reported on May 11 that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has received eight complaints of abuses in the districts of La Paz, Cochabamba, Tarija, and Santa Cruz, which refer to some priests who are deceased and others still alive.

He also reported that these cases are being investigated by a committee of prosecutors.

“The Public Prosecutor’s Office is receiving the complaints within the framework of the activation of the protection measures provided by the Public Prosecutor’s Office to witnesses and victims, in such a way that they can give their testimony and their statement within the scope of protection established by the law,” Lanchipa explained.

The official stated that among the accused are Pedrajas, Roma, Mestre, Antonio Gausset, and other priests.

“We are concerned about the negligence of the Catholic organization for not reporting the incidents in a timely manner and providing cover-up or a kind of protection for all these aberrant incidents that happened in our country,” the attorney general emphasized.

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“For decades there have been rapes of our minors, children, adolescents and the necessary protection has not been made, much less has the complaint been made public,” he added.

Pedro Fuentes, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of La Paz, said May 14 that “it’s terrible that a member of the Church has given free rein to his sickness, because it is a sickness and it is a crime, and it pains us. It’s not enough to ask for forgiveness, we know. It is necessary to act with justice and the Church is always open to act with justice.”

The prelate described the abuses as a “terrible crime” and assured that the “Church is always open to acting with transparency and justice, especially in cases of crimes committed by members of the Church.”

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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