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World News

'I ask for justice': Bolivia church abuse case sparks a reckoning

by Reuters Journalist

Bolivian authorities are investigating a Church abuse case after the diary of a late Jesuit priest came to light containing confessions to the sexual abuse of at least 84 minors since the 1970s, sparking a reckoning in the South American nation.

    The revelations, first published by Spanish newspaper El Pais earlier this month, documented abuse by Alfonso Pedrajas, known as Father Pica, a Spanish priest who lived for years in Bolivia where he ran schools for marginalized communities.

    After his death in 2009, his nephew found a 300-page diary on his computer where Pedrajas confessed to the crimes, and wrote that he had spoken to superiors who did nothing about it.

    Bolivia's Attorney General is now investigating the case against Pedrajas and looking at whether Catholic Church officials should also be held responsible. Many people who were abused are speaking out, with protests outside Jesuit offices.

    "I only ask for justice, so aggressions and abominable acts against defenseless beings are never repeated," Carlos, 52, who was abused by Pedrajas when he was a student at the Juan XXIII school in Cochabamba, told Reuters.

    "I am willing to risk everything. Some people ask why now? I tell them that their questions hurt, they are meaningless because they don't know the ordeal we experienced."

    Bernardo Mercado, a Bolivian Jesuit who spoke for the order, said the body was seeking clarification about the complaints and was cooperating with authorities.

    "I have absolutely no reason to obstruct the investigation and I fully trust the attorney general," he said.

    On Friday (May 19), Bolivia's government said it would demand "background" checks from the Vatican for any priests coming on a mission to the country in the wake of the case.

The case has opened a floodgate of complaints about abuse by Jesuits, but also Dominicans, Franciscans, diocesans, and other orders in charge of managing schools in the country for decades.

Over the last week prosecutors have raided some schools including the traditional San Calixto college and the Provincial Curia in La Paz seeking documentation for preliminary investigations, with two priests and accomplices detained.

    Activist America Maceda said it was important that both individuals and institutions be held responsible.

    "We demand justice for the victims. But not only against those who commit these acts, but also against those who systematically cover them up," she said.

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