Pope Francis expresses ‘shame and dismay’ over sexual abuse of minors in Bolivia

Pope Francis prays pensive sad general audience May 17, 2023 Pope Francis at his general audience in St. Peter's Square on May 17, 2023. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis has sent a letter to the president of Bolivia expressing “feelings of shame and dismay” and a firm promise to work with the government of the South American country to end clerical sexual abuse of minors.

The letter, released Friday according to the Associated Press but signed on May 31 and addressed to Bolivian President Luis Arce, is a response to another letter sent to the pontiff on May 22 by the South American president. The pope’s letter was made public on May 15 on the official Twitter account of the Bolivian president.

“Dear Mr. President: I have read your letter and I thank you for the clarity and deference with which you share with me your concern, outrage, and condemnation and that of the citizens of that beloved nation, due to the deplorable events that have affected and continue to affect individuals sexually abused by members of the Church,” the pope wrote at the beginning of his letter.

The pontiff then expressed his sorrow: “In the face of the tangle of evil caused by those who, betraying their mission as priests, pastors, and educators — and who, as you express — committed ‘crimes that harm boys and girls for life, and that also harm the Church,’ I express my sorrow and my feelings of shame and dismay.”

In April 2023, a scandal rocked the Church in Bolivia when a report in the Spanish newspaper El País exposed the late Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno for having sexually abused as many as 85 minors during his ministry. This revelation led to reports of more cases of abuse committed by Jesuits and other religious congregations.

At another point in the letter, the pope revealed that he was “moved and shocked” when thinking “of the disastrous actions of those priests and also of the negligence of those who should have exercised oversight.”

The Holy Father noted that the “ministers of the Church must be ‘guardians’ and guarantors of the good and of the future of the young generations, and stand out for propagating the attitudes and sentiments that have characterized the presence of Jesus among men.”

“This problem continues to be one of the greatest challenges for the Church of our time,” the pope noted.

Pope Francis also expressed to Arce his “firm desire to respond with the full cooperation of the Church to work alongside the government of your country.”

“I ask the Lord to help us to generously fulfill our duty to repair injustices and to always be faithful to the task of protecting those who are so dear to Jesus,” the pontiff concluded.

For his part, Arce thanked the pope on Twitter for his response, “in which he shares our great concern, outrage, and condemnation of the cases of pedophilia” in the country.

In addition, the head of state insists on the need to “strengthen controls to prevent foreign priests with a history of sexual crimes from entering the country.”

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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