LA PAZ, May 24 (Reuters) – Roman Catholic Church leaders in Bolivia said on Wednesday the institution had been “deaf” to sexual abuse in Church-run schools and said they were taking action after a series of accusations in recent weeks led to protests and a legal investigation.
The accusations were sparked by the publication in Spanish newspaper El Pais in April of the diary of a late Jesuit priest, which contained multiple confessions of the sexual abuse of children in the schools he ran in Bolivia. It alleged Church officials knew about the abuse but did nothing.
Since April, some 200 people have come forward to say they suffered abuse in religious-run schools in the country.
Abuse scandals globally have shredded the Church’s reputation and been a major challenge for Pope Francis, who has passed a series of measures over the last 10 years aimed at holding the Church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results.
In their statement on Wednesday, Bolivia’s Catholic bishops acknowledged that “as a Church… we are certain of having taken part, directly or indirectly, in deep pain inflicted on innocent people who were victims of sexual abuse and of an insufficient handling of the situation.”
The bishops said they would set up two commissions to investigate the abuse and help victims who instead of receiving protection “found themselves with a Church deaf to their sufferings.”
Earlier this month, President Luis Arce wrote a letter to Pope Francis requesting access to files concerning accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Bolivia.
The country’s attorney general is also investigating the multiple accusations of abuse.