The call for justice is getting louder

The call for justice is getting louder

In 2019, a report by the British NGO Children’s Rights International said that Latin America was experiencing a “third wave” of revelations of abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, following a first wave in 2002 sparked by revelations in the Boston Globe and The New York Times. that has swept through several European countries, starting with Ireland in 2009. In this study documenting church sexual abuse in Latin America, the NGO suggests that, to deal with such widespread and systematic crimes, inspiration can be drawn from “truth” commissions. “It was formed after periods of dictatorship to investigate human rights violations.”

Although there is no such commission on the continent yet, the NGO Ending Religious Abuse (ECA) – the first transnational organization focused on international justice and accountability for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church – has been making the same appeal since 2017. From Among the problems associated with clergy abuse is that the church moves its priests to other countries for their protection – this is very common in Latin America. It is necessary to have independent committees, made up of experts who understand how the Church can act as priests. “Church business,” explains Mexican lawyer Adalberto Méndez Lopez, founder of the Economic Commission for Africa and coordinator of legal cases. Chile and Argentina, where many church-related scandals have emerged, symbolize two disappointing hopes on the continent, he said in an interview with Justice Info. The most damning cases involve Peru and Mexico.Relative hope has come from Bolivia.

In Europe, the most dramatic detections of this global systemic scourge occurred in Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.


On our global map published in September 2020, we note that Chile’s National Prosecutor’s Office announced that investigations into sexual abuse committed or concealed by church members rose from 38 to 119 during the summer of 2018. In that year, the number of investigations reached 32 filed by Chilean bishops Their resignations were submitted to Pope Francis when they were summoned to Rome. At the time, Chile was the first country in Latin America to establish an independent church investigation commission. A total of 158 people – bishops, priests or lay people associated with the church – have been under investigation for sexual abuse in Chile since the 1960s.

Since then, no progress appears to have been made, and reports suggest that trust in the Church is waning in Chile, “particularly as sexual abuse revelations continue to rise after 2018. People are speaking out: more than half of the complaints recorded by the Church” The church was built between 2018 and 2019,” according to an account published by the French daily newspaper La Croix.


In November 2019, two clerics working at a specialized institute in Argentina were sentenced to 42 and 45 years in prison for sexually assaulting deaf and hard of hearing children. In February 2020, the victims traveled to Rome to request an audience with the Pope.

In 2022, the Rev. Gustavo Oscar Zanchetta, bishop of the Oran Diocese from 2013 to 2017, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for sexually assaulting two minors who were seminarians in the Diocese of Puerto Santa Cruz between 2009 and 2012.


In January 2018, the Vatican placed the secular Peruvian Catholic movement Sodalitium Christianae Vitae under its supervision after its founder, Luis Fernando Figari, a refugee in Rome, was accused of sexually abusing minors. Four other members are suspected of sexually assaulting and kidnapping 19 minors between 1975 and 2002.

The Sodalitium Christianae Vitae case is the country’s largest sexual abuse scandal: between 1970 and the early 2000s, dozens of people, including minors, were abused within the institution. However, it was not until July 2023 that the Vatican appointed a committee of experts in the capital, Lima, to investigate these abuses. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta and Spanish priest Jordi Bertomeu, recognized as one of the best religious investigators into child sex abuse crimes in the church, were put in charge of the investigation.


In 2006, the country was rocked by the case of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, who was publicly accused of sexual assault and abuse of minors between 1956 and 1997. In 2021, following internal investigations by the Catholic Church, twelve bishops were implicated in their handling of sexual abuse cases. “In Mexico, in 2020, there was an attempt to create a truth commission to investigate all the crimes committed by the clergy, and I was the lawyer who proposed the initiative to the senators,” says Adalberto Méndez Lopez. “What happened? The government did everything in its power to stop these committees. The church and politics are very intertwined in our countries; the Foundation has very strong relations with governments.” He confirms that the matter could go further, adding that “former Mexican President (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) said publicly that he would not fight the church because he did not want to.”


The only hope for such a commission came from Bolivia. In May 2023, the Bolivian president, in a letter to Pope Francis, requested “the handover of all files, records and information relating to allegations or facts of sexual abuse” committed in Bolivia to his country’s judicial system. “Nothing like this has ever happened on the continent,” says Méndez Lopez.

This official request comes after Spanish daily newspaper El Pais revealed abuse in the Bolivian church in April 2023. Spanish Jesuit priest Alfonso Pedragas, who died in 2009, allegedly abused more than 80 minors when he ran the John XXIII School in Cochembamba is in the center-west of the country. Following these revelations, 35 members of the Catholic Church were reported to the Bolivian justice system by 17 alleged victims of sexual assault, and are currently under investigation.

On May 24, 2023, the Bolivian bishops established a national hearing commission and a national investigation commission to shed light on the alleged cases. “We really thought Bolivia would be what we needed in the region,” says Méndez Lopez. But according to his information, these committees remain partial: “What I recently learned is that the Bolivian state does not want victims to be part of the committees. This is unacceptable, so they will definitely not see the light.”

As in Peru, the Pope sent Father Bertomeu to report on sexual abuse prevention programs.


In May 2019, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of the Brazilian Bishop of Limeira, Monsignor Felson Dias de Oliveira, who was under investigation by the Brazilian civil justice system on suspicion of covering up sexual abuse.

At the end of May 2023, a book by Brazilian journalists on child sexual abuse in the church revealed that 108 Catholic priests and leaders had faced legal action in Brazil since 2000. An internal Vatican report dating back to 2005 estimated that one Brazilian priest in ten was involved. In this matter. In cases of abuse, that is, about 1,700 clerics.

United State

In April 2023, a report by the Maryland Attorney General revealed that at least 600 children were abused by at least 150 Catholic clergy between 1940 and 2002. The American justice system denounced the “church’s complicity.” This investigation was opened in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2018 after the Pennsylvania Attorney General revealed that at least 1,000 children had been victims of child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests, and the church had covered them up.


On 13 February 2023, the independent Portuguese commission, commissioned by the Conference of Bishops and composed of six experts, published its report. It found that 4,815 victims had been sexually abused by members of the Portuguese Catholic Church over the past 70 years. Out of 500 testimonies collected by the committee, 25 were referred to the Public Prosecutor for investigation. Among other things, experts recommended a law change that would extend the statute of limitations to 30 years after the event. Upon the issuance of this report, the President of the Conference of Bishops confirmed the establishment of a body to support victims and the possibility of financial compensation.


On October 27, 2023, the first independent commission to investigate crimes of child sexual abuse in the Spanish Catholic Church, commissioned by the Spanish Parliament, revealed in its report that more than 440,000 people – including 200,000 minors – had been victims of abuse by Clergy. Between 1970 and the present day. The report is based on a survey of 8,000 people. It found that 0.6% of Spaniards aged 18 to 90 said they had been abused by a clergy member when they were minors. While the Spanish Bishops’ Conference apologized to the victims, it described as “surprising (…) the extrapolation of the data obtained (…) which does not match the truth, and does not represent all priests and members of the Church.” Religious orders.


On 19 October 2023, a new commission of inquiry into church sexual abuse was set up in Belgium, which was unanimously called for by the Flemish political parties. Thirteen years after the first parliamentary commission to investigate sexual abuse in the church was established, its aim was to assess the attitude of the Catholic hierarchy towards potential victims who had since been reported, and to assess the results obtained by victims after the first report. This assignment comes after a television program was broadcast on Flemish public television, revealing, through dozens of testimonies, the extent of sexual abuse against minors.


On September 12 this year, a report released in Zurich revealed 1,002 cases of sexual abuse committed by members of the Swiss Church since 1950. Commissioned by the Church, researchers at the University of Zurich conducted this pioneering experimental study. Using mainly archival material, the study identified 921 victims of sexual abuse committed by 510 perpetrators, the vast majority of whom were priests. 74% of violations were committed against minors and 14% against adults. The church announced the establishment of a national body to receive and listen to victims, and wants to establish a criminal and disciplinary ecclesiastical court. This initial study should be extended over the next three years.

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