Unveiling Shadows of the Past: Sexual Abuse Scandal Rocks the Bolivian Catholic Church
The Catholic Church in Bolivia is currently grappling with a growing scandal involving a series of sexual abuse cases. One of these cases involves a deceased Spanish Jesuit priest, Jorge Vila Despujol, who has been accused of sexually abusing a minor three decades ago.
This accusation, formally presented before prosecutors by an individual who alleges they were indecently touched by Despujol at the age of 13, has added to the string of pedophilia cases that have deeply shaken the Catholic Church in the Andean country.
The alleged abuse took place at an educational institution in the central region of Cochabamba. Currently, no further details regarding the incident have been provided.
Perhaps one of the most disconcerting aspects of this case is the fact that Vila Despujol was the founder of the organization Defense of Children International in Bolivia, which is dedicated to promoting the rights of minors. The organization, still active today, has condemned all forms of abuse and has urged other victims to file reports with the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The Jesuits in Bolivia have been under intense scrutiny since the Spanish newspaper El País published excerpts from the diary of the late priest Alfonso Pedrajas. The diary entries, which spanned the 1970s and 1980s, confessed to the sexual abuse of dozens of minors in Catholic boarding schools. This revelation led to a formal accusation against Pedrajas, who died in 2009, by an alleged victim on May 19.
The revelations about Pedrajas have helped shed light on other cases of abuse by Church authorities, including those from other orders. These discoveries have been made amid a broad inquiry by prosecutors into the allegations.
Other priests implicated in similar cases include Milton Murillo, a Carmelite parish priest who was sent to pre-trial detention for three months. Another priest, Garvin Grech, was formally charged with covering up Murillo’s alleged crimes and has since fled to neighboring Argentina.
Bolivian Attorney General Wilfredo Chávez disclosed earlier this week that approximately 23 priests have been implicated in alleged pedophilia cases. In response to these disturbing allegations, the Jesuit Society in Bolivia has apologized to the victims, pledged to support the investigation, and denounced Pedrajas’ superiors for an alleged cover-up. However, many of the individuals singled out are no longer in office or have passed away.
Earlier this week, Jordi Bertemeu, one of the Vatican’s top sex crimes investigators, arrived in Bolivia in light of the escalating scandal. The Bolivian Catholic Church has since acknowledged its previous deafness to the sufferings of victims of sexual abuse committed by priests and pledged to seek reparation for the victims.
This ongoing scandal within the Catholic Church in Bolivia is a stark reminder of the imperative need for institutions to remain vigilant and proactive in protecting the rights and safety of the vulnerable, particularly children. It also underscores the importance of transparent and comprehensive investigations into allegations of sexual abuse, ensuring justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators.