Jesuits in Bolivia call lawsuit filed by alleged sexual abuse victims ‘senseless’

Church of the Society of Jesus in Cochabamba, Bolivia Church of the Society of Jesus in Cochabamba, Bolivia. | Credit: Archdiocese of Cochabamba

The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) described as “senseless” a lawsuit filed on Oct. 2 by a group of former students of the John XXIII School in Bolivia against the order’s provincial, Father Bernardo Mercado.

The religious order maintained in an Oct. 3 statement that any crime “that some Jesuits may have committed are entirely their own responsibility” and assured that the Society of Jesus “will be the first to ensure that possible sanctions are applied without any kind of privilege.”

On Oct. 2, alleged victims of sexual abuse by Jesuit priests filed a complaint accusing Mercado of “omission” of responsibilities “by not having prevented these crimes from being committed that the highest authorities of the Society of Jesus of Bolivia knew about.”

In a press release shared with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, by the Association of Alumni of the John XXIII School of the Society of Jesus, it is explained that the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s office specializing in gender crimes.

“The cover-up and complicity of the highest authorities of the Society of Jesus, who were aware of the illegal conduct of its members, considering the body of constitutional law that governs the plurinational state of Bolivia, makes them go from accessories after the fact to becoming perpetrators by omission, since if, at the time, the means called for by law in a sovereign state were resorted to, hundreds of boys, girls, and adolescents would not have fallen into the clutches of sexual predators, pedophiles, and rapists,” the press release stated.

However, for the Society of Jesus in Bolivia, “they see no sense to the lawsuit.”

In their statement, the Jesuits pointed out: “As for the crimes reported, as established by our laws, they are of a personal nature and these individual responsibilities must be investigated, determined, and punished by the justice system in accordance with the rule of law and the legal system of the country.”

In late April, an unprecedented sexual abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church in Bolivia following a report by the Spanish newspaper El País that indicated that the Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, who died in 2009, had sexually abused at least 85 minors during his ministry.

As a result of the investigation, numerous cases of abuse in the Society of Jesus and other Catholic institutions came to light. The country’s attorney general reported in May that there were some 23 priests involved in abuse cases in the country.

In the middle of the same month, Mercado, the Jesuit provincial, spoke out about the abuses, acknowledging that the Society of Jesus had made mistakes in handling cases perpetrated by members of his community in previous years.

In the Oct. 3 statement, the Jesuits in Bolivia affirm “that their institutional duty is being fulfilled and guaranteed, with the priority that the victims find justice.”

“For several years now, the Society of Jesus in Bolivia has assumed, as appropriate, its institutional responsibility to avoid any type of violence and sexual abuse, working on the development of prevention policies and protocols and ensuring the existence of healthy and safe places in all the undertakings under their charge,” the Jesuits stated.

In addition to “actively supporting the victims of cases of pedophilia allegedly or plausibly committed in past decades by members of the institution,” the Jesuits assure that they have provided legal advice to complainants and that they have cooperated with “the investigations conducted by the public prosecutor’s office.”

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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