Church in Bolivia, concerned about “aggressive attitude” of authorities over pedophilia scandal

Church in Bolivia, concerned about "aggressive attitude" of authorities over pedophilia scandal

Peace – The Catholic Church assures that it is collaborating with the investigation into the pedophilia scandal it is facing in Bolivia, but it is concerned about the “aggressive attitude” of the country’s authorities who accuse the religious institution of covering up.

First modification:

“We are horrified, ashamed, we understand very well the rage and anger that is generated before some sacred ministers who have betrayed their mission,” said the spokesman for the Bolivian Episcopal Conference (CEB), Andrés Eichmann Oehrli, in an interview with AFP.

The entries made in his personal diary by Alfonso ‘Pica’ Pedrajas, a Jesuit who died in 2009 at the age of 66, shamed the Church in this country, where 58% of the 12 million inhabitants are Catholic.

Pedrajas admitted to sexual violence against 85 minors in the nearly four decades he taught in Bolivia, after which more cases came to light.

Since the Spanish newspaper ‘El País’ published ‘Pica’s’ confessions at the end of April, the Bolivian Prosecutor’s Office has identified 17 victims and 35 alleged attackers linked to the Church.

According to Eichmann Oehrli, a 61-year-old layman, the Church is listening to the victims and encouraging them to criminally denounce those responsible.

However, this Argentine who has lived in Bolivia for 34 years maintains that the Church is concerned about the reaction of some authorities, and believes that there can be no talk of a cover-up among the religious.

Recently, the country’s Attorney General, Wilfredo Chávez, appointed by the Government to defend the interests of the State, requested “an exemplary criminal sanction” for those responsible that “break once and for all the structure of systematic cover-up that existed in the country by of the Catholic Church”.

A person walks in the church of La Merced, in La Paz, Bolivia, May 24, 2023.
A person walks in the church of La Merced, in La Paz, Bolivia, May 24, 2023. © Reuters

Next, excerpts from the dialogue with the spokesman of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference.

What is the Church doing in response to the complaints?

We are the first to say, please, to the victims: come to the listening commission (…) There are several channels, there is a free line, you can go personally, physically to the office, there is a WhatsApp line ( …) In addition to listening to them, the victims will be encouraged and, if necessary, accompanied to make their complaint to the Public Ministry. But one thing that our State authorities do not seem to always take into account is that no victim can be pressured to denounce.

Within the work that we are doing, there is something that is worrying us and it is, let’s say, a very unpositive attitude on the part of the (…) Ministry of Education, (which) is demanding enormous amounts of information from Catholic educational establishments and from agreement, with derisory deadlines for the presentation and for gathering all that information. It would be nice if they stopped having that aggressive attitude, because we work together on a common goal that is to overcome this scourge.”

Was there a cover-up?

If there has been a cover-up, please say who, when… if it’s not an on-air accusation, it’s a general accusation. So if we have cover-ups, we want to uncover them because we want to get rid of them. In other words, the first thing we want is a clean church, with a clean house, that knows how to take care of itself.

Now we don’t know of any case of cover-up, at the moment we don’t know, if we knew, we would act.

In the United States, the Church tends to compensate victims. Have you thought of something like that in Bolivia?

And it could happen. Let’s say that the crimes in Bolivian criminal law are intuito personae (they fall on the person). So there are no cases of criminal imputation to institutions. In a reform (…) that there was of the Criminal Code, the possibility of institutional guilt was opened, but we still do not know of any similar case. If that were the case, then the authority could establish compensation. But that belongs for now more to the Anglo-Saxon culture.

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