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LA PAZ, Bolivia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Bolivia's president is warning Pope Francis of grave consequences for the Church after multiple exposés of predator priests abusing minors rocked the predominantly Catholic country in May.
In a four-page letter addressed to "Brother Francis" on Monday, President Luis Arce expressed "shock and outrage" at the revelations and demanded that the pontiff instruct the Bolivian hierarchy to release secret diocesan files on sexual abuser priests.
Threatening to restrict the entry of foreign clergymen, Arce said he would create a "truth commission" to investigate the "deplorable and aberrant crimes" that the local hierarchy covered up with "unacceptable indifference and indolence" by their "complicit silence."
The cascade of complaints against predator priests was sparked by the exposé of Fr. Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, a Catalan Jesuit who left behind a diary recording his abuse of at least 85 minors, including seminarians and male students at the John XXIII College in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Jesuit authorities in Spain and Bolivia refused to act when Pedrajas' nephew, Fernando Pedrajas, brought the diary to their attention. The Society of Jesus suspended eight former provincials accused of cover-up, only after the story broke in Spanish media El País in May.
The predation of Pedrajas, alias "Padre Pica," was covered up at the order's highest levels in Rome by Pope Francis' tertianship instructor, Fr. José Arroyo, and by Fr. Marcos Recolons, assistant ad providentiam to Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, Jesuit superior general from 2008 to 2016.
Following Padre Pica's outing as a pederast, former students have testified to being abused by Pedrajas' Jesuit abuser-companions Fr. Francesc Peris ("Chesco") and Fr. Carlos Villamil ("Vicu") — both fellow teachers at the John XXIII College.
Meanwhile, students in Spain and Bolivia, including former seminarians, have shared testimonies of sexual abuse perpetrated by Jesuit priests Fr. Luis Tó González, Fr. Antonio Gausset Capdevila, Fr. Luis María Roma Padrosa ("Lucho"), and Jesuit bishop Alejandro Mestre, a Spanish missionary to Bolivia.
The deceased Mestre, former archbishop emeritus of La Paz and former secretary of the Bolivian bishops' conference, has been accused of the homosexual rape of a sixth-grade student at San Calixto School in La Paz, where Mestre was a teacher and a priest.
Pupils at the Colegio Casp-Sagrado Corazón de Jesús in Barcelona, nicknamed Fr. Francesc Peris "Sex Penis," since the Jesuit predator's reputation for abusing young girls was an "an open secret" for decades, El País reported.
In 2005, the Society of Jesus removed Fr. Peris from the Casp school for "inappropriate conduct" towards a female student. Peris, who spent the year 1982 in Bolivia, was reinstated at the same school. The Jesuit spent three decades at the school, beginning in the 1970s.
Several students recall how "the typical cool priest" who doubled up as a religion professor and gave talks on sexuality "with terrifying ease," took them on mountain hikes. The Jesuit also talked about spirituality and energy.
Taking advantage of his position as a conciliator, Peris would call students to his office even in the middle of another class and seduce them after locking the door. "He came over and asked me to put my legs between his, with my knee touching his private parts, and his knee between my legs," one student testified.
According to victims, Peris' companion Fr. Carlos Villamil would abuse minors in the school's chicken coop, a large space where the students raised some 5,000 chickens.
"There was a small room, in the attic [of the coop], for a person in charge to watch over things, so that no one would steal. He had his mini bedroom there. This friend took me there to show me how Vicu, without closing the door, was having sex with a 17-year-old student there," victim Manuel López (a pseudonym) narrates.
In the case of Fr. Luis Tó González, a group of 12 former female students at Sant Ignasi de Sarrià, including five victims, have come together to testify against the Jesuit who was later appointed by his superiors to teach sexual ethics in Bolivia.
"He was a compulsive predator. They called him the 'Tocato' ('Toucher'). The whole school knew it," Elena (a pseudonym) told El País.
González was sentenced to two years in prison in 1992 for abusing an 8-year-old girl. The Jesuit school covered up the incident and sent him to Bolivia, to teach sexual ethics. The priest remained in contact with minors and repeated the abuses.
Father "Lucho" Roma, a Spanish Jesuit who spent decades in Bolivia, was found to have photographed and storied his sexual abuse of indigenous boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 12 on a CD.
Roberto, a fellow Jesuit who was expelled by the order, discovered the CD and handed it over to journalist Gabriel Romano from the EFE agency, who published it and informed the Society of Jesus in February 2019.
"When I saw the [computer] file I had an anxiety attack. I began to shake because everything I saw was devastating — photos of underage children, naked, photographed in inappropriate positions and circumstances. And later I saw photos of Lucho touching them," Roberto said.
On May 17, police arrested Carmelite priest Fr. Milton Murillo for abusing seminarians, Bolivian newspaper Página Siete reported. Murillo abused at least 30 victims while he was administrator of the Seminary of the Virgin of Fatima Carmelite Order in La Paz, Bolivia.
When seminarians complained, Murillo's superiors sent the predator to Rome "as punishment," but since he did not adapt to his new assignment, he was sent back to his native Bolivia and made parish priest of San Roque Tarija Church until his arrest.
A former seminarian said that Murillo pressured seminarians into letting him give them a medical examination during which he sexually touched them. Whoever refused was exposed to reprisals or being expelled from the community, the complainant noted.
One of the victims alleges that Bp. Jorge Saldías, who was named an auxiliary bishop of La Paz in 2014, tried to bribe the complainants with a sum of 50,000 bolivianos (over $7,000) "so we would keep quiet about everything."
Seminarians who tried to report Fr. Murillo to the then Carmelite superior, Fr. Garvin Grech, noted that Grech was also reported for alleged abuse by a seminarian and accused by his secretary, Jeanethe Melogno, of having another man as a partner, Página Siete reported.
Grech fled the country for Argentina hours after Murillo's arrest, Edson Claure, departmental commander of the Tarija police, confirmed last Friday. The priest was due to appear on May 19 before the prosecutor's office.
In another testimony on the Facebook page of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia, Marina Córdova Alvéstegui claimed she was sexually abused 26 years ago by Polish Franciscan Fr. Eusebio Konkolewski.
Alvéstegui said the incident occurred on a "social-work trip" during her last year of high school, but she preferred to remain silent for fear of being dismissed from school, even though "I had excellent grades and was a model student" at St. Ignatius.
On Monday, Pope Francis dispatched Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, a top official from the disciplinary wing of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, to Bolivia, in response to the explosion of clerical sex abuse cases hitting the media.
Bertomeu previously led investigations of abuses committed by priests against minors in Paraguay and Chile.
The Vatican official's arrival coincides with that of Pedro Lima, a former Bolivian Jesuit seminarian who will testify before Bolivian prosecutors as a witness.
Lima, one of the chief whistleblowers, says he is "a victim of abuses of power, sexual abuse, and abuse of conscience by the Society of Jesus in Bolivia."
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