Although the global dimension of reports of sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy in the world is still unclear, investigations such as those carried out in recent years in North America and European countries begin to shed light, with overwhelming numbers. An example is France, where the Independent Commission on Abuses in the Catholic Church concluded that at least 216,000 minors were victims of pederasty since 1950, while in Spain, advances are being requested from various fronts in the investigations of pederasty in the clergy.
Meanwhile, in Latin American countries, outside of Chile, no in-depth research has been done on this problem of the Church, which has proven to be of a global. Monsignor Luis Manuel Alí, auxiliary bishop of Bogotá and general secretary of the Episcopal Conference, spoke with EL TIEMPO about how the processes are advancing in Colombia, in which cases such as the 38 priests of the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, who would have been involved in abusive acts or carnal access, remember that it is a topic that is not foreign.
What do you think about What advances have been made in research on pederasty in Europe and the rest of the world? 11 years ago. The Episcopal Conference of the United States was the first to lead a contract with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. In Australia, in 2014 the two reports focused on Catholic educational institutions were released, and then the MHG report from Germany was released, which was contracted by the Episcopal Conference to three universities, and the best known in recent years have been those of the Catholic University of Chile, in 2019, and that of the French Catholic Church, which contracted an independent investigation called the Sauvé Report. All these investigations at the world level throw up some figures that are repeated and they are marking us a tendency of the problems that we have within the Church; for example, from 3 to 4 percent of the priests in this period comprised in the last 70 years appear as child abusers, and other figures more than already comparing them makes us have elements to work and carry out all preventive and support for victims.
Yes, it is certainly a global problem in the Church and in institutions that work with minors. It is difficult to hide and say that it is a territorial problem. Although each of the territories must contextualize their answers, we are aware that it is a global problem, as is sexual violence against children and adolescents throughout the world.
How are the investigations progressing in Colombia?
The episcopal conference has made several attempts to quantify and qualify the cases that have been received in the diocese in recent years, but I have to confess that it has not been an easy task because each one has a different way of handling their records. This has not allowed us to consolidate reliable and consistent qualitative and quantitative information. It has really been very difficult to do this, since some countries are already leading the way. That is why we truly believe that this task should be carried out by an independent academic organization that has the technical capacity to carry out an objective and reliable analysis of the situation of the victims in the country. We have to start working on this from the Episcopal Conference.
Why not form a commission from the Episcopal Conference to advance investigations, as has been done in other countries?
That is what we want to start working on our projects for this semester from the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, we are not closed to that possibility. It has to be an independent commission, a technical commission, we have to work on this idea and I confess that it will be the priority in this semester of our meetings that we are going to have with the permanent commission, which is the team of the bishops of Colombia It has the decision-making power in these cases. It seems very important to us to take significant steps, as other nations have done.
In the investigation of cases of abuse of minors age where the clergy is involved, how much depends on canon law and how much on civil law?
The two rights are independent; when a person denounces a case of sexual abuse there is a canonical process, but, since it is a crime, it also has to be denounced before the civil authority, to the Prosecutor’s Office; They are two parallel processes, so if we are reported a case of these at the canonical level, we have the obligation to report it.
On a canonical level, what happens to the guilty?
The expulsion from the priestly state, that is the penalty given to a priest canonically when he is guilty.
Currently in Colombia there are priests who have been expelled?
Yes, several. That figure is held by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and each one of the dioceses and archdioceses handles those figures; For example, in the Archdiocese of Bogotá, of which I am a part, we manage our figures and we know exactly how many priests have been denounced in these 20 years and how many have been expelled. Last year, in 2021, two priests were expelled from the Archdiocese of Bogotá.
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How did the criminal case progress about those priests?
Both are in jail, one already convicted and the other is in precautionary measures, the civil trial is still under way.
Do you think that in the case of Colombia and Latin America there is a debt to speed up the investigation?
Yes, without a doubt we have that debt. We have already started, we have worked in many fields. I am not a canonist, I do not work on specific cases of complaints, my responsibility is more the preventive part, that is why I am part of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which is more in charge of all the preventive work, prevention guidelines so that Precisely these situations do not happen again; I think there is progress in this work, we have begun to do our training with evangelization agents, with priests, with seminarians, we have several documents, such as the ‘Prevention Guidelines’ of the Archdiocese of Bogotá, and we want to work on it nationwide throughout this year.
How should reparation for victims be?
Everything that is for the good of the victims and the protection of children and adolescents is a priority for us, and any victim, whether of violence, sexual abuse , whatever it is, deserves truth, justice, comprehensive reparation and non-repetition and, of course, the victims have the right to carry out a comprehensive healing process so that they become survivors. At that point, a fundamental element is repair. We also have to work on that to look at the best ways to help victims throughout this process. Anyone who feels that they need, in this case civilly, to file a complaint with the Church because they feel that they need to be redressed, of course they can do it, and they do it from the legal mechanisms that Colombian justice has.
What do you think are the causes of this global problem?
That is precisely the debt we have and the desire to do not only quantitative but qualitative research, because the important thing about these situations is to know the causes in order to deal with them . The work we are doing at a preventive level has taught us that we are facing a multi-causal phenomenon, there is no specific cause; that is, there are causes of institutional situations, regional and cultural situations, some characteristics in the context that are managed, and also vulnerabilities and psychological fragilities. They are like a few segments that generate a number of causes that generate this situation in an institution that works with minors such as the Church, which is why any preventive work has to focus on raising awareness among all agents, that is, catechists , of priests and religious who work with minors, but also with parents and even with children.
Commission , yes, but that it be totally independent
According to the AFP news agency at the beginning of the month, in 2019, Bishop Óscar Urbina, Archbishop of Villavicencio, at the request of Pope Francis, was assigned to investigate the sexual abuse committed by priests in that municipality, a task for which resorted to former prosecutor Olga Cristancho and Socorro Martínez, a former official from the Attorney General’s Office with experience in investigating massacres.
The findings of the investigators, who at the time distanced themselves from Monsignor Urbina, suspecting that he might try to cover up religious, were collected by the journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos in his book This is the Lamb of God, a publication that brings together the testimonies and clues that implicate 38 priests of the Archdiocese of Villavicencio in abusive acts or carnal access.
The author, who has also been behind complaints about cases of pederasty in Medellín, assures that, despite what the representatives of the Catholic Church in Colombia affirm, the consolidated data on the complaints does exist, because it is about information that must be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, a collegiate body of the Holy See in charge of guarding the correct Catholic doctrine in the Church and dealing with faults s serious as the cases of abuse of minors by priests.
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“The nunciature and the episcopal conference have information about this”, affirms the journalist, who on several occasions has made requests to different representatives of the Catholic Church, such as Monsignor Luis José Rueda Aparicio himself, archbishop of Bogotá and president of the Episcopal Conference, to obtain them, without a positive response.
“Accessing the secret files has been almost impossible, it has been based on the right to petition and guardianship because they never respond, so much so that the Constitutional Court once again chose my guardianship to study it and issue a new sentence because it they refuse to answer”, he assures.
That is why he welcomes the possibility of having a specialized commission in the country to investigate cases of pederasty within the Colombian Church, as long as it is totally independent. and layman. “It would be an act of transparency that the victims need. But not only knowing and knowing numbers and names, here there has to be truth, justice and reparation. I recently spoke with a victim who denounced his story in the first book, he was raped by six priests, he is on the verge of death, he has schizophrenia, and the priests who raped him were suspended for a few days and came back, they are as if nothing had happened ” , he concludes.