Irish Times [Dublin, Ireland]
May 7, 2023
By Guy Hedgecoe
Missionary Alfonso Pedrajas appears to confess to paedophilia, in a diary discovered by his nephew
The publication of parts of the diary of a dead Spanish Jesuit missionary has triggered the suspension of several members of the clergy, a legal investigation and an apology from the Catholic Church. His diary details his sexual abuse of dozens of children under his care in Bolivia.
Alfonso Pedrajas spent 48 years there, working as a teacher and tutor to young priests. Several years after his death in 2009, his nephew Fernando Pedrajas found a 383-page diary in which the priest details episodes from his life, including apparent confessions of abusing children.
“I harmed a lot of people (85?), too many,” he writes in one entry, published along with other excerpts by Spanish newspaper El País on April 30th.
“My biggest personal failure, without a doubt: paedophilia,” he wrote in another.
In the diary, Pedrajas does not recount the nature of his sexual encounters with children, instead describing them with euphemisms such as “mistakes”, “sins”, or “sickness”, which he regretted.
In 1964, he wrote about “my first mistake. I remember it as a fierce battle, with a crucifix in my hand, the great failure of my life”. The diary suggests he continued abusing children until shortly before his death.
The diary also appears to show how colleagues of Pedrajas, who was widely known by the nickname “Pica”, attempted to cover up his crimes.
His nephew, Fernando, said that on finding the diary in 2021, he initially found it “lovely”, because it detailed Pedrajas’s travels across South America helping the poor. “But when I got further into it I discovered that Pica was a paedophile and that the [Jesuit] order protected him,” he told El País. “I felt fear, disgust.”
El País has contacted many of the alleged victims of the priest, who tended to be poor boys, according to the newspaper’s research. Some of them told in detail of how he abused them while they were in his care and threatened to expel them if they told other people about it.
“The impact the abuse had on me has been devastating for my emotional, sentimental, economic and professional life,” one of the victims said.
Fernando Pedrajas said members of his own family were unwilling to hear about the contents of the diary and that the current principal of the school in Cochabamba, in Bolivia, where his uncle had worked, showed no interest in the case. He got in touch with the Jesuit office in Bolivia that investigates child abuse within the order but lost contact with it after refusing to hand the diary over to its head, Osvaldo Chirveches.
The publication of contents of the diary drew an almost immediate response from institutions in Bolivia. “We are hoping for a powerful statement from the Church regarding these developments,” said María Nela Prada, minister of the president’s office, just hours after publication.
The head of the Jesuits in Bolivia, Bernardo Mercado, announced that eight senior members of the clergy had been suspended pending an investigation to see if they failed to act while knowing about Pedrajas’s alleged crimes. Five of those suspended were in posts overseeing the Spaniard while he was working in Bolivia, and the other three have held their posts since his death.
“The abuses have caused a deep wound in the victims and the complaints cannot be ignored, even though the priest involved has died,” Mercado said.
He added: “We ask for forgiveness for the pain caused.”
Meanwhile, the state prosecutor, Wilfredo Chávez, immediately filed a request for an investigation to be opened into the case.
“We are talking about a very serious situation which forces the state to take measures to investigate,” he said.
So far, the Spanish Catholic Church has not taken any action, although it said it supported the steps taken so far in Bolivia.
“We are united in the sentiment expressed by the Jesuits in their statement regarding this painful case and the initiatives they have announced,” it said.
Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain