SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Prosecutors in Bolivia have reopened the case of a Catalan-born Jesuit priest who spoke about hundreds of child abuse cases in his diary.

The abuse happened especially in Indigenous communities between the 1990s and the early 2000s. A number of his superiors were informed of his actions and failed to take any measure, his accusers say.

The story of late Father Luis María Roma, who died in 2019 without ever being punished, was published by Spanish newspaper El Pais on June 16.

It recalled the equally monstrous case of Father Alfonso Pedrajas, another Spanish-born Jesuit who worked in Bolivia and wrote down in his diary dozens of child abuse acts he perpetrated over decades.

The article described how Roma, known as Padre Lucho, systematically abused and took pictures of hundreds of Indigenous girls – especially members of the Guaraní people – between 1994-2005, when he was a missionary in the small city of Charagua, in the southeastern part of Bolivia.

Lucho would draw girls – some of his victims were as young as eight – with several promises, including candy and Disney animated movies. He not only abused them, but also took pictures or films of them. An aide of his only known as Bladi supposedly helped him take the pictures.

“Today 10 girls passed by my room and I must have taken about 95 photos of dear little girls,” Padre Lucho described at some point in his diary, according to El Pais.

The priest would call his actions “an obsession” in different entries. He even expressed remorse at times.

“I must have left some families bitter because of my lack of maturity and because of what it meant to be locked up there with little girls,” he wrote.

In March of 2000, Lucho wrote he decided stop abusing and photographing little girls. He packed all his pictures and videos and decided not to keep living in such a permanent state of “lust and lasciviousness.” But this lasted only 76 days, El Pais said.

In 2005, the Society of Jesus transferred him to Sucre without a clear reason. There, a colleague discovered some of his pictures on his computer. Only 10 years later, when he had already left the Jesuits, that priest decided to speak about what he saw to a journalist.

Father Osvaldo Chirveches, then the provincial of the Society of Jesus, told the reporter he didn’t know anything about the case and promised he would open an investigation. Despite the inaction of some of the inquiry committee’s members, one of them, Father Daniel Mercado, carried out a thorough investigation, listening to people who also had seen Lucho’s pictures.

One of them, a former employee of the Jesuits – a woman who used to clean Lucho’s room – said that she saw pictures of him having sexual relations with young girls. She told another priest, Father Cesar Maldonado, who then told the provincial and other high-ranking Jesuits about it, but nothing was done.

According to El Pais‘s story, Mercado reported his findings to Chirveches, with whom he discussed the necessary measures that should be taken at that point, like reaching out to the victims and compensating them, investigating other cases, and renovating the anti-abuse protocols. Nothing was done.

Only after the Pedrajas’s scandal broke out last year the Jesuits of Bolivia decided to denounce Roma to the authorities, the newspaper went on. The prosecutors, however, closed the case after they were not able to identify his victims.

With El Pais‘s story, the Bolivian Society of Jesus published a new statement.

It recognized that “the actions of those who were in charge of addressing the complaints of sexual abuse of girls, boys, and teenagers and acting on behalf of the victims were negligent, indolent and disastrous, without placing the victims at the center of their interest.”

Those who acted like this, the letter continued, “must be held responsible for their actions in the handling of such situations, as established by Bolivian justice within the framework of due process.” The letter “urges the State Prosecutor’s Office to reopen the case of the Catalan Jesuit Luis María Roma and those it deems appropriate, given the evidence of the testimony of victims and the material collected in the raids.”

Wilder Flores, one of the founding members of the Bolivian Community of Survivors of Ecclesial Sex Abuse, said those declarations should not be seen as a necessary mea culpa, but as a new way of blaming individuals and not the institution as a whole for its role in covering up the scandals.

“It’s lamentable the way they communicate with the public. They want to appear as collaborators of the judiciary, but they are not,” Flores told Crux.

He said that the Jesuits should not urge victims to contact them through their channels of communication.

“We have two colleagues, two Pedrajas’s victims, that did so and ended up being revictimized. They had to tell again all they suffered to different members of the Jesuits,” he said.

At some point, the Society of Jesus asked them if they wanted money, Flores added.

“They were willing to pay for their silence. For us, those channels and protocols are only a mechanism to keep covering up cases,” he said.

Flores declared his group has been able to contact some of Roma’s victims. Although some of them are in denial and others are willing to negotiate with the Jesuits, he said he believes some of them will collaborate with the prosecutors.

“That El Pais story will certainly be helpful now, especially because many victims back up all the information it made public,” Flores said.