Vatican sends priest’s diary to Bolivia amid sex abuse scandal

The late priest Alfonso Pedrajas is accused of sexually abusing children while working in Bolivian boarding schools.

A sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has gripped Bolivia, prompting the Vatican to send a key piece of evidence back to the South American country.

On Thursday, the Society of Jesus of Bolivia acknowledged that it had received a copy of the diary belonging to the late Alfonso Pedrajas, a Jesuit priest accused of abusing dozens of minors. The diary was then turned over to prosecutors in the city of Cochabamba.

The contents of the diary were first brought to light in the Spanish newspaper El País in April, as part of its ongoing investigation into the Spanish Catholic Church.

Pedrajas, originally from the Spanish city of Valencia, had kept detailed accounts of the child sexual abuse he committed in Bolivia, dating as far back as the 1970s. He died of cancer in 2009.

According to El País, the priest’s nephew Fernando Pedrajas discovered a print-out of the diary in an attic and ultimately turned it over to the newspaper.

In its pages, the priest Pedrajas wrote lines like: “I hurt so many people (85?). Too many.”The newspaper published excerpts from the diary, prompting an outcry in Bolivia and an official Vatican response. Pope Francis promised to ensure “the full cooperation of the Church to work alongside the government” as it investigates the allegations.

He also expressed sorrow over the ongoing revelations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, calling them “deplorable”.

Bolivian President Luis Arce, for his part, has called on his country to “strengthen controls to prevent foreign priests with a history of sexual crimes from entering the country”.

The public prosecutor’s office is investigating the abuse claims. Priest Jordi Bertomeu, a sex-crime investigator from the Vatican, also arrived in Bolivia in May to gather information about prevention efforts being undertaken within the church to stop sexual abuse. He had previously conducted investigations into church officials in Chile and Paraguay.Pedrajas, known as Father Pica, was placed in the 1970s at Jesuit boarding schools for impoverished youth, primarily in Cochabamba.

At one point, according to his diary, Pedrajas told a Jesuit colleague about the abuse, only to be advised not to mention it in future confessions.

The investigation into Pedrajas joins at least 12 other ongoing judicial probes into allegations of clergy sex abuse in Bolivia. The Bolivian Episcopal Conference has said one priest has already received a 10-year sentence for rape.

Another priest, Milton Murillo, was sent to pre-trial detention for three months in May. New testimony against Murillo emerged in the wake of the Pedrajas scandal, as prosecutors called on survivors to step forward.

Since April, more than 200 people in the country have expressed that they too suffered abuse at religious-run schools.