Pope Francis expresses concern and dismay over alleged abuse by priests in Bolivia

By Carlos Valdez

Pope Francis expressed concern — and dismay — over the allegations of sexual abuse committed by priests in Bolivia in a letter sent Friday to President Luis Arce, as a pedophilia scandal involving priests continues to rock the the Andean country.

The pontiff pledged “the full cooperation of the Church to work alongside the government” in the ongoing investigations over the abuse allegations.

“I express my sorrow … for the deplorable acts that have affected and continue to affect individuals who have been sexually abused by members of the church,” Francis wrote in the letter dated May 31 that was read Friday by María Nela Prada, the minister of the Bolivian presidency, at a news conference in La Paz.

In the letter, Francis says he shares the president’s “concern, outrage and condemnation” regarding the recently reported incidents, as well as for “the negligence of those who should have exercised vigilance.”

Francis was responding to a letter Arce sent him last month after allegations of pedophilia involving a Jesuit priest came to light. Alfonso Pedrajas, who died of cancer in 2009, revealed in a personal diary published by Spanish newspaper El País that he had abused dozens of minors in Catholic boarding schools dating back to the 1970s.

President Arce commented on the letter on social media, praising Francis’ “willingness to take concrete, joint actions against the impunity of sexual crimes.”

Arce added that Bolivia should “strengthen controls to prevent foreign priests with a history of sexual crimes from entering the country.”

Bolivia’s Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation and has asked victims to come forward. New cases of sexual abuse have been uncovered as a result of this probe and one priest was sent to pre-trial detention for three months last month.

So far, 12 judicial investigations against clergy members in Bolivia, including one which already resulted in a 10-year prison sentence for a priest charged with rape, the Bolivian Episcopal Conference (CEB) said earlier this week. In several of the cases, those who have been accused of abuse have already died.

Jordi Bertomeu, a Spanish priest who is one of the Vatican’s top sex crimes investigators, was in Bolivia last month in part to deal with the fallout from the growing sex abuse scandals. He had previously led investigations into similar accusations by priests in Chile and Paraguay.

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