Carmelite priest arrested, others accused in Bolivia on sex abuse charges

abuse Credit: Pixabay (Public Domain)

In the midst of allegations of sexual abuse against Jesuit priests in Bolivia, a Carmelite priest was arrested recently by the authorities, and accusations against another Carmelite and a Franciscan have come to light.

In a statement to the Bolivian newspaper Página Siete, a former seminarian of the Carmelite order reported in 2014 that he was sexually abused by Father Milton Murillo when the priest was the administrator of the formation house in La Paz. According to the complainant, Murillo allegedly pressured seminarians to let him give them a medical examination in which inappropriate touching occurred. Whoever refused, the complainant said, was exposed to reprisals or being expelled from the community.

The former seminarian said a group of seminarians tried to inform the then Carmelite superior, Father Garvin Grech, about what was happening without getting any results.

Página Siete noted that Grech was also reported for alleged abuse by a seminarian. His own secretary, Jeanethe Melogno, accused him of having another man as a partner.

Given the lack of response from the ecclesial authorities, Melogno decided to publicly unmask Grech. Encouraged by this, former seminarians approached her to tell her that they had been abused by Murillo.

It is estimated that Murillo sexually abused some 30 people.

The alleged victims state that they wrote a letter to Jorge Saldías, who in 2014 was named an auxiliary bishop of La Paz, but when they tried to deliver it they were turned away. One of them accused the prelate of trying to bribe them: “He told us not to make a fuss and that’s why he offered us 50,000 bolivianos (more than $7,000) so we would keep quiet about everything,” he told Página Siete.

The relative of one of the abuse victims filed a complaint with the authorities, and on May 17 Murillo was jailed. The Minister of Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia reported via Twitter that the Carmelite is accused of the crime of aggravated sexual abuse.

“There will be no impunity of any kind, and even less so in cases of this nature,” the minister stressed.

At the time he was arrested, Murillo was working as the pastor of San Roque Parish in the town of Tarija in Bolivia.

Before that, the priest was reportedly transferred to Rome, but later he was allowed to return to Bolivia to the parish Grech directed.

According to the news outlet Los Tiempos, Grech left Bolivia for Argentina the day Murillo was arrested. This was confirmed May 19 by the departmental commander of the Tarija police, Edson Claure. The priest was due to appear on May 19 before the prosecutor’s office.

Franciscan accused of abuse

On the Facebook page of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia, Marina Córdova Alvéstegui publicly claimed she was touched inappropriately 26 years ago by the Polish Franciscan Eusebio Konkolewski.

According to Córdova, the incident occurred on a “social work trip that we made” during her last year of high school. She said that she preferred to remain silent for fear of being kicked out of school, “despite the fact that I had excellent grades and was a model student” at St. Ignatius School.

She also said that she thought her complaint was unlikely to be heard and that authorities would think she was only trying to discredit the institution.

Spanish archbishop accused

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Among the Jesuits accused of sexual abuse is the archbishop emeritus of La Paz and former secretary of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, Alejandro Mestre. 

The Jesuits themselves filed the complaint even though the prelate died in 1988.

The Society of Jesus in Bolivia confirmed in a statement published May 19 that in 2021 it received and acted upon a complaint against Mestre for the homosexual raping of a sixth-grade student at San Calixto school in La Paz, where Mestre was a teacher and then still a priest.

The Jesuits outlined the steps they took, including a preliminary investigation, reporting the incident to the general curia of the Jesuits and the prosecutor’s office, and sending the information gathered to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued its instruction Jan. 16. 

The Society of Jesus explained that since Mestre is deceased no canonical process can be initiated against him but that the victim has been offered accompaniment by the order and has not yet responded to its offer. 

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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