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Pope shares ‘concern, outrage and condemnation’ with Bolivian president over abuse cases

People pray in front of an image of the Divine Mercy at a Catholic Church in La Paz, Bolivia, May 24, 2023. (OSV News photo/Claudia Morales, Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — The president of Bolivia welcomed a pledge from Pope Francis “to take concrete, joint actions against the impunity of sexual crimes” in the South American country, where credible accusations of clerical sexual abuse have provoked outrage and caused a reckoning for the Catholic Church.

President Luis Arce posted the contents of a letter from Pope Francis to social media June 16, along with the comments, “We appreciate the (Pope’s) response, in which he shares our great concern, indignation and repudiation of the cases of pedophilia in Bolivia, an inadmissible crime that harms children and the Catholic Church itself.”

He continued, “We have to strengthen control to prevent foreign priests with a history of sexual offenses from entering the country.”

In his letter dated May 31 — which responded to an earlier letter from Arce demanding action from the Vatican — Pope Francis expressed “pain and feelings of shame and dismay.”

“Thinking of the nefarious actions of those priests, and also of the negligence of those who should have monitored them,” the pope wrote, “I am shaken and shocked because ministers of the Church must be custodians and guarantors of the good and the future of the younger generations, and be responsible for propagating the attitudes and feelings that have characterized the presence of Jesus among men.”

Arce wrote to the pontiff earlier in May asking him to open the Vatican’s archives to better vet foreign priests and religious in the country, and promising to review long-standing agreements between Bolivia and the Holy See.

The Spanish newspaper El País previously had published the diary of deceased Spanish Jesuit, Father Alfonso Pedrajas, who documented his abuse of dozens of children in a Jesuit school he directed in the city of Cochabamba.

The Jesuit province in Bolivia has acknowledged its failure in preventing and punishing Father Pedrajas’ crimes and subsequently suspended eight former provincials. At least four Spanish-born Jesuits — all deceased — have been accused of sexually abusing children in Bolivia, the Society of Jesus has said in statements, while media have identified at least two additional priests facing similar accusations.

An investigation by the Bolivian newspaper Página Siete found more than 170 accusations of clerical sexual abuse being voiced since the El País story ran April 30.

The Bolivian bishops’ conference has promised cooperation with the investigations into clerical sexual abuse, while also providing attention to the victims and establishing protection protocols.

The conference said in a June 14 statement that it had created four new commissions for prevention and training, investigating accusations, providing care and receiving complaints, and communications.

David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.

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