Vatican official arrives in Bolivia amid growing abuse scandal News
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Vatican official arrives in Bolivia amid growing abuse scandal

Pope Francis dispatched Monsignor Jordi Bertomeu, a top Vatican sex crime investigator, to Bolivia on Monday as victims of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of priests continue to come forward.

Bertomeu, a leading member of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), previously led investigations of abuses committed by priests against minors in Paraguay and Chile. The Bolivian Episcopal Conference stated that Bertomeu’s visit had been scheduled prior to the rising accusations. According to the conference, Bertomeu was scheduled to study the progress made in the field of the culture of prevention promoted by the Vatican.

The escalating scandal began when Spanish newspaper El País recovered and publicized the diary of Spanish Jesuit Alfonso Pedrajas, in which he admitted to sexually abusing approximately 85 minors while working at Catholic boarding schools in Bolivia through the 1970s and 1980s. The diary also detailed how multiple Church officials covered up Pedrajas’ abuse during and after his tenure in Bolivia. The cover up led to the Society of Jesus in Bolivia sanctioning eight, as-yet unnamed, former high-ranking officials of the order. Pedrajas died of cancer in 2009.

Since then, several other Catholic priests in Bolivia have been accused of sexually assaulting minors. One, Carmelite priest Milton Murillo, was arrested earlier this month. Bolivian newspaper Pagina Siete reported that, after Church officials were made aware of abuse allegations in 2014, Murillo was punished with a transfer to Rome, but was later reinstated as a pastor in Bolivia. As with Pedrajas, Murillo’s superiors were allegedly aware of his transgressions, but failed to take any meaningful action.

Bertomeu’s arrival coincides with that of Pedro Lima, a former Bolivian Jesuit seminarian who will testify before the Bolivian prosecutors as a witness. Lima describes himself as “a victim of abuses of power, sexual abuse, and abuse of conscience by the Jesuit Society in Bolivia.” Bolivian prosecutors have called on victims of Pedrajas and others to come forward with their testimony, and the Bolivian Government has said it will establish a Truth Commission to investigate abuses of minors.