The Society of Jesus, the religious order to which Pope Francis also belongs, is currently facing a new, serious case of pedophilia. The protagonist of the story is a Spanish missionary in Bolivia who died in 2009, who in a recently discovered diary admitted to having abused at least 85 minors. The Jesuit was called Alfonso Pedrajas and was nicknamed “Padre Pica”. In the diary, which was published by the Spanish newspaper El País, Pedrajas meticulously noted all the abuses committed in almost fifty years.
The author of the País article is journalist Julio Nuñez, who explained that he had received the diary from the missionary’s nephew, Fernando Pedrajas. It was originally contained in an old Acer computer, owned by a man who had been close to Father Pedrajas in the last years of his life. The latter then gave it to the missionary’s brother, who printed it and put it in a binder. Eventually the missionary’s nephew found the paper journal in the attic.
Pedrajas was born in Valencia in 1943 and entered the Society of Jesus at the age of 17. In 1961 he left as a missionary in Latin America: first in Peru and Ecuador, then in Bolivia. Here, in Cochabamba, he became deputy director of the Colegio Juan XXIII, a boarding school where children from poor families were welcomed and directed to study. In the boarding school, according to what he wrote in his diary, Pedrajas abused numerous boys over the years.
The diary covers 48 years of the Jesuit’s life and is 383 pages long. The folder on the computer that contained the diary was called “History”. Every single story is reported with precision, in all there are 350 entries with bold headings indicating the place and date in which the note was written.
In his pages Father Pedrajas is quite explicit. In one passage he writes: «I have hurt so many people (85). Too many?”. In the diary the missionary also admits to having confessed to other priests what he had done. On another page of his diary he wrote: ‘Have I been a degenerate (or a trapped sick man?).’ In the diary the Jesuit never calls his acts “crimes” but always defines them as “sins” or “illness”. He also puts consensual relations almost on the same level as assaults on minors.
The binder in which the diary was kept remained in the attic until 2021, when Pedrajas’ nephew found it. Before delivering the diary to País, Fernando Pedrajas contacted the current director of the Cochabamba college who, however, said he knew nothing of the matter. He also turned to the Spanish prosecutor’s office, but replied that the statute of limitations had now taken place for the cases reported in the diary. Finally, even the person responsible for the prevention of abuses in the Church in Bolivia has shown little interest in investigating the matter.
Before publishing the diary, El País carried out a series of checks by tracking down five former members of the college who confirmed they had been abused. The boys also said that the stories about Father Pedrajas were quite well known in the college at the time.
These are some excerpts from the diary published by the País:
An account of these last 17 years: failure, shame, hypocrisy, smallness, total disorientation. I feel very small. I’ve done a lot of wrong. I ask for a recreation: if I come back, be new. I see everything clearly: my emptiness, a distant God who hides… I’m not that guilty.
Caracas (Venezuela), June 21, 1978
In the midst of that sadness I wanted to fight to overcome my problems, but I had less and less strength and the snowball was bigger.
Taquiña (Bolivia), March 22, 1989
The laws would be very severe (prison, exile, expulsion). All the weight of my mistakes crushes me. Yes, I’m guilty. Before him, I have no words. My silence is shame, it’s guilt, it’s pure misery. (…). I hurt, I hurt.
Chuquiñapi (Bolivia), February 21, 1998
I’m tired, very sleepy, but I think I need to write, even if I don’t feel like it. Mom called me this afternoon. She told me very simply: «They called from Belgium, asking for you. Is Pica there?», etc. She gave him my La Paz phone number. The stranger (about 35 years old, says the mother) before hanging up on her said: he raped my son.
La Paz (Bolivia), January 15, 2001
What filled this time was the pedophile issue on TV and in the press. Some moments I lived with enormous anxiety. Everything affected me: sleep, work, relationships, addiction, everything. I am shocked. I am afraid. Tomorrow I speak with Ramón at 8.30 in the morning. I propose to go to Valencia to take care of mom. I have to escape from this anguish and mediocrity.
La Paz (Bolivia), June 17, 2002
Three days after the publication of the diary, the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference issued a statement:
As a Church we condemn these actions, we stand in solidarity with the victims who have suffered sexual abuse, we ask their forgiveness and we tell them that we share their suffering and disappointment at these grave events that marked their lives and caused deep pain.
El País points out that the response of the South American church has been rapid compared to the positions taken by the various European churches, and very tough.
On the same day as the release, the Society of Jesus in Bolivia filed a complaint to have the Bolivian judiciary investigate the matter. Bernardo Mercado, provincial of the congregation (the highest office), announced that the Society has sanctioned eight former superiors of Father Pedrajas. Those still in service after the revelations have been notified of suspension from all activities.
The students’ association of the Colegio Juan XXIII, which in the past was directed by Pedrajas himself, said it had already denounced what had happened in the college years ago. According to the association, both the leaders of the college and those of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia were fully aware of what had happened: «Not only because of Pedrajas’ repeated confessions to the Catalan provincials and to the priests of that institution (who in the newspaper), but also for the complaints presented by the students at different times, for which they were expelled from the school». The president of the alumni organization, Hilarión Baldiviezo, told the press that the suspension of the Jesuit superiors ordered by the provincial “is not enough” and calls for penal sanctions.