Bolivia’s episcopal conference stressed solidarity with abuse victims, in response to recent revelations that a deceased Jesuit priest committed acts of sexual abuse against dozens of Bolivian boys.
In response to a May 5 media report about abuse committed by Fr. Alfonso Pedrajas, who died in 2009, the Bolivian bishops’ conference said it was in “solidarity with the victims who have suffered acts of sexual abuse.”
“We ask for their forgiveness,” the conference said, “and we want to tell them that we share their suffering and disappointment for these serious events that have marked their lives and have been a cause of deep pain,” the bishops said.
The Society of Jesus’ province for Bolivia also responded to the report, saying that the Jesuits had filed a police complaint to initiate an investigation into Pedrajas’ case.
The Bolivian provincial superior, Fr. Bernardo Mercado, SJ, also told the newspaper that the society had sanctioned eight former high-ranking officials accused of covering up Pedrajas' crimes, though he did not identify who those officials were.
Bolivia’s attorney general, Wilfredo Chávez, announced last week he is investigating the case against Pedrajas, and will determine whether charges should be filed in the country against any ecclesiastical officials.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais published May 5 a lengthy feature report on the diary of Fr. Alfonso Pedrajas, known as Padre Pica.
The Jesuit priest, who died in 2009, spent much of his ministry in Bolivia, including running a school for boys from poor rural families.
Pedrajas was also a serial sexual abuser who recorded his feelings about his predatory attacks, his victims — the priest estimated there were at least 85— and his Jesuit friends and superiors who knew about his crimes.
The diary of Padre Pica has been described as an horrific but possibly unique insight into the life and mind of a serial sexual abuser, and the ecclesiastical culture which allowed him to continue preying on minors over a period of decades.
The El Pais report, which included interviewing several of Pedrajas’ victims as well as the priest’s romantic partner, was published on the same day Pope Francis addressed the plenary session of the Pontifical Commission for the protection of Minors — an event that garnered considerable coverage.
At a moment when Pope Francis is explicitly renewing his call to engage with and heal the legacy of sexual abuse in the Church, the emergence of Pedrajas’ diary would seem to offer new and important material for consideration, albeit via an appalling insight into the mind of a serial abuser.
Covering nearly 50 years of ministry, the diary was returned by the priest’s lover to Pedrajas’ family in Madrid shortly after his death. It was stored in an attic, and then by one of Pedrajas’ nephews in 2021, who took it on himself to contact the Bolivian schools where Pedrajas committed his crimes, as well as the superiors of the Society of Jesus.
But the diary is more than a story about the past.
After he attempted to report what he learned from his uncle’s diary to Jesuit superiors, the priest’s nephew told El Pais that he was not given any update or information on a possible investigation, prompting him to go to the press.
Local superiors in Bolivia, meanwhile, told the El Pais that while an investigation had been technically opened, they were still waiting for the nephew to send them the complete diary files — some 380 pages.
Throughout the diary, in addition to detailing his serial predations upon boys, Pedrajas also recounted at least seven Jesuit superiors with whom he discussed his abuse, some in the context of sacramental confession, but many not.
In one case, the Pedrajas recalls that the Jesuit responsible for preparing him for his final religious profession told him not to mention the abuse of minors in his confessions, that “nothing is going to happen to [him],” and to think of his crimes as “isolated cases.”
Still, on at least one occasion in the 1980s, the priest appeared to have been given some kind of punishment —- he was sent for a year to work as a laborer in a Bolivian mining camp.
While he wrote to one of his victims blaming him for reporting his abuse and causing his apparent penal assignment, a year later he was back at the school where he continued to abuse the students.
Pedrajas’ diary also included documents, added by the priest, including evaluations by his superiors, discussing his suitability for other roles. He was put in charge of novices for the region in 1989 but, while he was discussed as a candidate for promotion to superior, the evaluations concluded that Pedrajas was “manipulative” and had “certain philias and phobias” over which he lacked self control, though abuse of minors was not specifically mentioned.
He remained a novice instructor until 1998, when he was placed in charge of new Jesuit initiates after their first religious professions.
In 1997, Pedrajas returned to Spain for several months and met with a Salesian priest and psychologist who advised him to “see the dignity of these defenseless people” he was abusing but to “avoid feelings of, and fixations on, guilt” about what he was doing but instead focus on the need to distinguish between consensual and non consensual sexual encounters.
The priest told Pedrajas that “the most important thing is not the sexual issue, but the need for tenderness and affection” in his abuse. Pedrajas himself wrote that he told superiors of his “need to be loved” which “for years has led me to seek affection where it was not appropriate.” Throughout his diary, Pedrajas referred to his crimes as sexual and religious “repression.”
While one victim told El Pais that Pedrajas blamed clerical celibacy for his abuse of them, saying he “did things with men” because relations with women were forbidden, later in life he wrote that he had accepted his homosexuality and begun a stable relationship with an adult man — the same who would find his diary after he died — but blamed the Church for his sexual repression.
At different times, Pedrajas also recorded feelings of shame and guilt about his abuse, which grew after some of his former students began contacting his parents in Spain to tell them their son was an abuser.
The priest also wrote about the international reporting of the Spotlight scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, saying that reading the coverage left him feeling “trapped between two walls (the past and the present) and they are closing in on me, crushing me.”