The scandal of the complaints of pedophilia that shakes the Catholic Church in Bolivia has begun to take on political overtones due to the measures promoted by the ruling party against that institution, which has asked not to politicize the crisis caused by the revelation of the personal diary of the Spanish Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas, who died in 2009, who confessed to having abused dozens of children in a boarding school in the central region of Cochabamba.
A month after the case broke out, thanks to a publication in the Spanish newspaper ‘El País’, opponents and analysts consider that the disputes are no longer only caused by pedophilia, but that the Catholic Church has become the target of a “settling of scores” on the part of the ruling party because it has been critical of the Government of Luis Arce on political and economic issues.
The Government defends that “there is no revenge”, but rather a search for Justice.
In addition to the Pedrajas case, the Prosecutor’s Office is investigating allegations of sexual assaults against other deceased Spanish Jesuits, such as Alejandro Mestre, who became Archbishop of La Paz; Jorge Vila, founder of Defense for Boys and Girls International in Bolivia, and Luis María Roma, who had a collection of his own photographs of abuse of indigenous children. The complaints were made by the Company of Jesus itself after the scandal broke out.
Accusations have also been raised against religious of other orders. In fact, the only priest with preventive detention in a prison is from the Carmelites, but complaints have appeared against a Franciscan, a diocesan, as well as an evangelical pastor and an Adventist, whose cases the Prosecutor’s Office will also investigate, according to various sources.
In its crisis, the Catholic Church has been the object of severe questions for an alleged cover-up of sexual abuse, but it has denied that point when condemning what happened.
The Government has considered reviewing the status of the Society of Jesus, evaluating the education agreements with the Catholic Church that administers more than 1,500 schools with half a million students (19% of the national total) and applying a reserve to the entry of foreign religious to investigate if they have a history in other countries.
President Luis Arce has also proposed to Parliament a “Bill to fight impunity in sexual crimes against infants, girls, boys and adolescents” to toughen the penalties against the aggressors and create a Truth Commission to clarify the facts that would have prescribed in complaints against religious.
What is particular about the Commission is that it will be made up exclusively of 11 members of state powers, headed by the Ministry of the Presidency, which has been questioned by opponents and analysts and has even raised doubts in some pro-government legislators, among those who denounced abuses. and those who declare themselves victims.
“An institutional attack against the Catholic Church”
Deputy Carlos Alarcón, from the opposition Comunidad Ciudadana, maintained that it will be “a political and politicized commission”, and that if it continues as it is, “it will rather manipulate access to the truth and distort the aim of transparency, objectivity and impartiality”.
The legislator had proposed that this instance be multi-party and be made up of personalities from civil society committed to human rights, but the alternative was rejected by the ruling party in the first internal commission that dealt with the issue.
There are big wounds and what has happened cannot be minimized
For the jurist, the Government is using a sensitive issue as a banner “to make an institutional attack against the entire Catholic Church” with the purpose of intervening in the schools run by the congregations “forgetting that in Bolivia the State, since the founding of the Republic, has left gaps that have been covered by the Catholic Church and its social work.
For the political analyst Gonzalo Mendieta, “without a doubt there is a current within the ruling party that believes that it is time to settle accounts with the Catholic Church and, probably, reduce its public influence. It seems to me that to deny it is to have a rather galloping myopia ”.
Regarding the Truth Commission, Mendieta defended that this instance is necessary “because there are big wounds and what has happened cannot be minimized.”
“A Truth Commission, more than a legal instance, is a moral instance and should have the conditions of credibility,” he stated, adding that if the members are only from the State, the legitimacy that the victims expect, above all, is not guaranteed.
The disputes between the Church and the ruling party, first in the governments of Evo Morales (2006-2019) and now with that of Luis Arce, had their explosion in 2019 when a political crisis occurred due to the resignation of Morales in a context of protests. and pressures due to allegations of electoral fraud. The opposition member Jeanine Áñez temporarily assumed the Presidency.
The Church participated in mediating the meetings between government supporters and opponents for the transition, but the ruling party has accused it of having been part of a “coup d’état”, while the opposition has highlighted its “pacifying role” in the crisis of this year.
“It is not a political revenge, but to ask for Justice”
The deputy of the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) Pamela Terrazas, who on her own has received twenty complaints of abuses in the Catholic Church, three of them linked to Pedrajas, denied that the intention is to act with “political revenge, but rather it is asking for Justice” for the victims of Pedrajas and other priests, even though they have died.
“We regret the silence of the Jesuit provincials and the leadership of the Catholic Church. Crimes committed within their institutions or by religious cannot be protected even under the secrecy of confession,” the legislator said.
Regarding the Truth Commission, the parliamentarian agrees that it cannot be made up only of members of the State, but that the presence of representatives of the victims and organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will be necessary.
The association of former students of the Juan XXIII school, where the abuses of Pedrajas occurred, also called for an “impartial, independent and transparent” commission and agreed that international institutions and notable legal experts should be invited, who are elected by two thirds of Parliament, that is to say with the participation of the opposition.
A Diagnosis company survey of 1,800 people points out that only a third believe that the Commission will carry out an in-depth investigation and achieve trials and convictions, and two thirds are skeptical, for which reason it “must earn the respect and credibility of the population”.