Colombian Priest's Confession of Abuse Ignites Claims of Catholic Church Cover-Up
By Mike Ceaser
October 6, 2006
Bogota, Colombia (CNS) – A Colombian priest's confession that he sexually abused students decades ago has ignited a scandal in the Colombian church, with accusations of wider abuse – including by a bishop – and a church cover-up.
The Colombian bishops said Oct. 4 that they would investigate all accusations and encouraged alleged victims to take their cases to court.
The videotaped confession by Father Efrain Rozo Rincon, 78, was first broadcast Sept. 28 by Bogota radio station W. The tape was made in February, when Father Rozo confessed to U.S. lawyers representing his nephew, Ernesto Rozo, who is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where some of the alleged abuses occurred.
Father Rozo, who currently lives in a Bogota residence for priests, said in the confession that while assigned to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and working at Loyola Marymount University between 1967 and 1969, he had sexually abused his nephew and had shown him pornography.
Father Rozo also confessed that before being assigned to Los Angeles, he had fondled a 14-year-old student, Jose Tavera Castillo, in Colombia.
But Tavera, who now lives in Quito, Ecuador, told Colombian media that Father Rozo had raped him. Tavera said that since he made the charges and accused other priests of abuse, he has received 16 telephone death threats.
Tavera said he has decades-old church documents that back up his accusations and show that church officials sent Father Rozo to California to "let time heal the wounds."
Colombian church officials said they had examined some of Tavera's documents, and that they appear to be fakes.
Tavero also accused Auxiliary Bishop Jose Ospina Leongomez of Bogota of abuse, which the bishop denied.
In his testimony, Father Rozo said that while at Loyola Marymount, church officials supervised him closely and allowed him minimal contact with youths. There, Father Rozo studied bioethics, becoming a respected expert in the field.
Until the scandal, Father Rozo had been a popular priest known for his work promoting youth bicycling. In the 1950s, he had won cycling medals in international competitions. Father Rozo also wrote books about Christian values and served as chaplain for various universities.
Meanwhile, a California lawyer representing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles told Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper that the videotape could not be used in court because Father Rozo had not been under oath. The lawyer said Rozo had not been a member of the archdiocese, but a guest, and that the alleged abuses had not taken place on church property.
Anthony De Marco, a lawyer representing the victims, said that Father Rozo had taken an oath before reading his confession.
Bishop Luis Castro Quiroga of Tunja, Colombia, president of the Colombian bishops' conference, called the episode detrimental to the church, but pointed out that sexual abuse occurs inside and outside of the Catholic Church.
"Just as we have been very energetic in saying that abortion is a crime, we say that pedophilia is a crime against society and a horrible sin in the eyes of God," he said.
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