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BOGOTÁ, Colombia (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Bogotá is the second cardinal-elect among Pope Francis' latest picks to be accused of covering up the clerical sex abuse of minors.
Archbishop Luis José Rueda Aparicio, one of the 21 prelates the pontiff will elevate to the cardinalate in September, refused to respond to a "right to petition" asking for details of 927 abuser priests and claimed that the archdiocese of Bogotá has no "secret files."
Juan Pablo Barrientos, a Colombian investigative journalist, known for his work in uncovering clerical sex abuse, criticized Aparicio on Thursday as "yet another case of [a prelate] concealing pederast priests."
The journalist explained how the archbishop of Bogotá had denied hiding behind the concordat between the Holy See and the Republic of Colombia to deny "a victim access to a copy of her complaint against a powerful Bogota priest."
The concordat, signed in 1973 and revised in 1993, provides certain exceptions for criminal proceedings involving bishops and individuals of similar ecclesiastical rank, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Apostolic See.
These exceptions allow clergy facing criminal charges to be tried by senior judges or the high courts. However, the concordat also stipulates that judgments will not be made public, and priests arrested before court proceedings may not be incarcerated in communal cells.
In Colombia, Article 13 of the Statutory Law on Religious Freedom grants religious confessional churches full autonomy and freedom in their religious affairs, allowing these churches to establish their own rules and internal regulations for their members.
Barrientos argued that the Church has exploited the concordat to protect priests preying on children and adolescents and claimed that the Colombian bishops ignored two Constitutional Court rulings that obliged them to address accusations of pederast priests.
Having graduated from Catholic University of the North, Barrientos extensively documented clerical sex abuse in Colombia through his books This Is the Lamb of God and Let the Children Come to Me.
"In 2023, as part of a journalistic investigation that has now completed five years, we sent 137 rights to petition to the bishops and superiors of the Catholic Church in Colombia requesting information on the accusations of pedophilia against the clergy," Barrientos noted.
The journalist said that "all the bishops and superiors — with the exception of fifteen — decided to ignore, in unison, the jurisprudence issued by the Constitutional Court in two sentences of 2020 and 2022, which oblige them to deliver the information."
The media organization CasaMacondo is now proceeding with "a public lawsuit of unconstitutionality against the Concordat," since it anticipates "that the right to access information in the Catholic Church will continue to be violated, even with a third ruling from the Constitutional Court," Barrientos revealed.
The Catholic Church uses the concordat to refuse to hand over its archives, arguing that they are governed by canon law, which prevails over the Colombian legal system, and the information on abuser priests is subject solely to canonical legislation, the journalist added.
Barrientos slammed the cardinal-elect for hiring "a very expensive law firm" to protect the secret archives of the archdiocese, "where hundreds of complaints against priests who are sexual predators of children and adolescents are kept."
In October 2021, a legal notice from Judge Hernan Andrés González Buitrago of the 33rd Municipal Court of Bogotá ordered Abp. Aparicio to respond to a right to petition that seeks details of 927 priests, their careers and complaints of abuse against them.
"I only found in the bishops of Sonsón-Rionegro, Fidel Cadavid, and [the previous archbishop] of Bogotá, Cdl. Rubén Salazar, the acceptance of the directives of Pope Francis on zero tolerance," Barrientos wrote in Let the Children Come to Me.
Aparicio denounced clerical pederasty as a "crime" and "serious sin" after Pope Francis made him archbishop of Bogotá in 2020.
"With humility, and accepting the infinite mercy of God, we ask for the comprehensive healing of the victims and that the truth shine through in the canonical process and in the process of ordinary justice," the archbishop said in an interview with El Tiempo.
"We may not be the most sinful in the world in this area of pederasty, but we must be the first to recognize it, set an example and ask for forgiveness," Aparicio added.
Aparicio is the second cardinal-elect accused of covering up sex abuse after Abp. Víctor Manuel Fernández, the incoming prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, was accused of protecting Fr. Eduardo Lorenzo, an influential priest from the diocese of La Plata.
Lorenzo committed suicide in December 2019, after five victims came forward, and a judge issued an order for his arrest, Church Militant reported.
On Wednesday, Church Militant reported on Abp. Ricardo Antonio Tobón Restrepo of Medellín, Colombia, who is accused of covering up Fr. Iván Darío Restrepo Salazar — a priest who allegedly raped a 14-year-old girl and forced her to undergo an abortion.
The alleged victim, Natalia Restrepo, told Church Militant that Fr. Salazar was still in active ministry, and the archdiocese was continuing to protect her rapist.
Archbishop Aparicio's office did not respond to a request for comment from Church Militant as of press time.