The Jesuits of Bolivia admitted that their actions were “negligent, indolent, and disastrous” in response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests such as the late Luis María Roma, who kept a diary and had photographs and videos of the Indigenous girls he allegedly abused. 

In another notorious case, “Padre Pica” also kept a diary in which he admitted abusing up to 85 boys and adolescents.

In a statement dated June 16, the Society of Jesus in Bolivia recognized “with deep regret that the actions of those who were in charge of addressing the complaints of sexual abuse of girls, boys, and adolescents and acting on behalf of the victims were negligent, indolent, and disastrous.”

The Jesuits in Bolivia noted that this took place “without placing the victims at the center of their attention such that those who acted in this way must be held responsible for their actions in the handling of such situations, as established by the Bolivian justice system in the framework of due process.”

The statement was posted on the Jesuits’ website a day after the Spanish newspaper El País published a report on Roma, the Spanish priest who is alleged to have “abused hundreds of Indigenous girls in Bolivia for decades. He photographed them, recorded them on video, and recorded everything in writing.”

“On this occasion, the order carried out an internal investigation that confirmed the crimes and their cover-up. The Jesuits, after the death of Roma in 2019, kept the findings in a drawer where they have remained unpublished, until today,” the newspaper stated.

In their statement, the Jesuits pointed out that “the current authorities in charge of the government of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia have the moral obligation not to act as was done in the past, worthy of strong condemnation.”

“For this reason, in addition to having actively cooperated with the investigations carried out by the public prosecutor’s office by filing complaints with that agency with the documentation that was available, with the aim of absolute transparency so that the truth of the facts may be known, we urge  the state prosecutor’s office to reopen the case of the Catalan Jesuit Luis María Roma and those it deems appropriate,” the statement explained.

The Jesuits made this recommendation “given the evidence of the testimony of victims and the material collected in the raids, to establish the responsibilities of those who may have known the facts and did not act in accordance with the law.”

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The Jesuits of Bolivia have ordered that “a commission, led by the current head of Healthy and Safe Environments, a lay professional and psychologist, immediately begin the work of contacting the victims in the Roma case, and others who have made complaints to determine with them the best way to care for their particular situation.”

Who was Roma?

In May 2023, and as part of the investigations into the abuse committed by the Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedrajas “Padre Pica,” new accusations arose against Luis María Roma Padrosa and Alejandro Mestre, also a Jesuit, who had been the coadjutor archbishop of La Paz in Bolivia. 

Both complaints were filed with the authorities by former Jesuit provincial Osvaldo Chirveches, who stated that they had already been investigated by the order and that the next step was for the prosecutor’s office to pursue the cases.

The case of Roma, who was a priest for 66 years, came to light in 2019, the year in which he died, based on an investigation by the EFE news agency. 

Although the number of victims is not known, it is known that Roma was accused of abusing minor girls between 7 and 12 years of age in the town of Charagua in southern Bolivia. The complaint was supported by photographs that were the property of the priest.

The priest lived in that town in the Santa Cruz district from 1994–2005; while the abuse would have occurred between 1998 and 2002.

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According to what was reported by the Página Siete portal, the case took four years before it was reported to the public prosecutor’s office. Página Siete stated that “neither the Church nor the state pushed for a public investigation or a judicial process.”

Once the investigation was completed by the Jesuits, the final report was sent, along with all the documentation, to the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome for study and consultation with the Congregation (today Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In September 2022, the credibility of the accusations was determined.

Roma was also a teacher at San Calixto School in La Paz, at San Clemente School in Potosí, and was director of the Tacata Children’s Home in Cochabamba.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.