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Pope Francis sends top sex crime investigator to Bolivia as abuse scandal escalates

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LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) – Pope Francis has sent one of his top sex crime investigators to Bolivia as the Andean nation is rocked by a growing pedophilia scandal involving priests.

Monsignor Jordi Bartomeu, a leading member of the church’s department for the doctrine of the faith, arrived in Bolivia on the same day a former Jesuit seminarian landed in the country to reveal more details about alleged cases of abuse.

The Bolivian Episcopal Conference said Bartomeu’s visit was not directly related to the recent sex abuse allegations, but was planned earlier to analyze “progress made in the field of a culture of prevention” promoted by the Vatican.

Bartomeu arrived in Bolivia from Paraguay, where he was investigating similar allegations against church officials, and in 2018 he led an investigation into child abuse by priests in Chile.

Bartomeu arrived in Bolivia from Paraguay, where he was investigating similar allegations against Church officials.

“The meetings in Bolivia will be held in an atmosphere of deep closeness to all those who have been victims of abuse in the Church,” the episcopal conference said in a statement.

Bartomeu “is a very trusted person for Pope Francis, who is responsible for addressing these issues, and he is coming to provide some guidance on how we can handle this issue, listening to the victims and their can support,” said Monsignor Giovanni Arana. Secretary of the Episcopal Conference.

The visit took place shortly after the case of the Spanish Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas became public. According to a private diary obtained by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Pedrazas allegedly abused around 85 minors at Catholic boarding schools in Bolivia in the 1970s and 1980s. He died of cancer in 2009.

The prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation, which remains confidential, and has called on victims to file complaints.

The Jesuit Society in Bolivia has apologized to the victims and pledged to support the investigation, condemning Pedrajas’ superiors for the alleged cover-up. Many senior officers are no longer in office or have died.

Pedro Lima, a former Bolivian Jesuit seminarian who is considered a key witness, has vowed to cooperate with the investigation. His arrival in Bolivia coincides with that of Bartomeu.

Pedro Lima, a former Bolivian Jesuit seminarian who is considered a key witness, has vowed to cooperate with the investigation.

“I am not only a witness but also a victim of abuse of power, sexual abuse and abuse of conscience by the Jesuit Society in Bolivia,” Lima said Monday as she arrived in Bolivia’s capital La Paz to testify before prosecutors. Office.

During a news conference, Lima accused the three Jesuits of hiding the alleged abuse.

“Apologies are not enough, these abuses cannot go unpunished. There must be compensation for the victims, and I am here to make sure these painful incidents never happen again,” said Lima, who spoke about the alleged abuses. declined to provide details.

Lima’s claim was questioned by Jesuit lawyer Audalia Zurita, who said that Lima was “in a position of power” to condemn alleged abuses when in 2006 and 2007 he was a member of the Constituent Assembly that reformed Bolivia’s constitution. Did and did not do so.

Lima left the Jesuit Society in 2001, where he was a teacher in schools and boarding houses, and entered politics. In 2012, he left the country, claiming “political persecution” by the Movement Towards Socialism party, and took refuge with the Jesuits in Paraguay, where he worked until recently.

“Of course, I worked with the Jesuits in Paraguay. Working with them doesn’t mean I should be silent… When I wanted to condemn, they said there are no victims, there is no evidence.’

The Pedrajas case has brought to light other previously unsolved cases. Prosecutor Wilfredo Chávez said there were “23 priests involved in pedophilia in the country,” including those sent to pre-trial custody for three months last week.

Since the Pedrajas case came to light, there have been sporadic protests in some churches and Catholic schools in Bolivia.