Jesuit provincial in Bolivia admits mistakes were made in dealing with sex abuse cases

Father Bernardo Mercado Father Bernardo Mercado, the Jesuit provincial in Bolivia. | Credit: ACI Prensa/YouTube screen shot

The Jesuit provincial in Bolivia, Father Bernardo Mercado, admitted that his religious order made mistakes in handling cases of sexual abuse committed by some members of his community in previous years and encouraged his fellow Jesuits to continue cooperating with law enforcement.

In a recent interview with EWTN News, Mercado said that in prior years the order conducted internal investigations into cases of abuse but that they were not reported to the justice system in a timely manner.

“I think it is a first procedural error that we have to recognize. ... But we didn’t know how to handle it that way,” he said.

Mercado added that the Jesuits have redoubled their efforts to care for the victims.

The priest explained that a professional team has been assigned to assist those who want to file a complaint and provide them with psychological support. In addition, legal advice is given so that the person can formalize their case with the authorities. 

Currently, “all Jesuits living or dead are subject to the public prosecutor’s office,” he noted.

According to Mercado, “there would be four cases, but about three Jesuits ... this is what we know,” although he did not specify if this includes some possible victims of Father Pedrajas, who allegedly abused at least 85 minors. 

The Jesuit superior also explained that some investigations that have “concluded and others that are in progress” have been reported to the justice system.

The Society of Jesus provincial emphasized emphatically that the abuse perpetrated by members of his congregation “is not a mistake as some would say, it’s not a fault, it’s not a sin, it’s a crime.”

Mercado said that they will have to study why they occurred, how they were allowed, and that they will seek to be more discriminating when selecting the men who enter the order.

“Because in the end, as in the case of the Spaniard Pedrajas, it’s clearly a criminal profile that took advantage of a setting in the Church, which practically put him in an advantageous situation with his victims,” the provincial noted.

Further on in the interview, Mercado encouraged the victims not to remain silent, to express the pain and suffering they experienced in order to prevent these atrocities from happening again.

The provincial pointed out that it was not the time to mention the good things that the Jesuits do but rather to give priority to the victims together with prevention so that “these painful realities never happen again, these inconceivable crimes for the human intellect.”

The Bolivian superior recognized that the Society of Jesus “is experiencing a moment of a strong downturn in its work, in its prestige, due to the incidents that have occurred.” But he thanked the brothers in his jurisdiction for the cooperation they are providing to the public prosecutor’s office so that all the facts are determined.

“The atrocities we are learning about from past generations of Jesuits are not messages of life. They are messages of death, of pain; it is the anti-Gospel. Therefore, the Society of Jesus, from its errors, from its mistakes, from its lack of transparency, has to learn and look forward,” he said.

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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