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The Jesuits of Bolivia call on Prosecutor’s Office to reopen case into Spanish priest who sexually abused 100 victims

The Catholic order, which hid the results of its internal investigation into Lucho Roma from the civil justice systems, admits that its actions were ‘negligent, indolent and disastrous’

Lucho Roma con una niña de Charagua
Lucho Roma with a girl from Charagua, in his room at the Jesuit house.
Julio Núñez

EL PAÍS launched an investigation into pedophilia in the Spanish Church in 2018 and has an updated database with all known cases. If you know of any case that has not seen the light, you can write to us at: abusos@elpais.es. If it is a case in Latin America, the address is: abusosamerica@elpais.es.

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The Society of Jesus in Bolivia has admitted that its handling of the pedophile case of the Spanish priest Lucho Roma — who abused and photographed at least a hundred Indigenous girls and detailed his actions in writing — “were negligent, indolent and disastrous,” according to a statement published Sunday by the Catholic congregation. The statement came hours after EL PAÍS published an investigation that uncovered how Lucho Roma wrote about sexually assaulting dozens of minors while he was a missionary, how his superiors conducted an investigation that confirmed the crimes and, how after Roma’s death in 2019, they concealed the findings.

The Jesuits hid these documents for four years and did not report the case until one year ago, when EL PAÍS published the first diary of another Spanish Jesuit, the now deceased priest Alfonso Pedrajas, who in turn admitted to having abused at least 85 children between the 1970s and 1990s, and how his superiors covered up his crimes. At that time, the Jesuits delivered the summary of the Lucho Roma investigation to the Bolivian State Prosecutor’s Office, but the justice system closed the case when the victims were not found. Now, after the EL PAÍS investigation, the congregation has urged the Bolivian State Prosecutor’s Office to reopen the case “given the evidence of the victims’ testimony.” In its statement, it says that the justice system must determine “the responsibilities of those who could have known the facts and did not” act “according to law.”

The Jesuits also announced that they will create an internal commission to contact the victims and assist them. This group will be led by lay psychologist Sandra Carvajal, the current head of the Listening and Care Channel for victims of abuse created by the Society of Jesus. “Those who acted in this way must be held responsible for their actions in handling such situations,” the press release states. A year ago, this position was held by Jesuit Osvaldo Chirveches, a former senior official of the Jesuit Order and one of the superiors who did not report the Lucho Roma case to the justice system. The Jesuit Order has still not responded to why it did not report the case when it became aware of it, nor why it did not apply the conclusions of the internal investigation: to make reparations to the victims, inform the Jesuit Order and create a team to address all cases of abuse that remained hidden from public opinion.

The Lucho Roma case is a horror story. Lucho Roma was a Spanish Jesuit who landed in Bolivia in 1955 to train as a priest. The internal investigation of the Jesuits states that Roma’s first began abusing Indigenous girls in the 1980s, when he held a high position in the Jesuit Order in La Paz, the country’s capital. According to the probe, between 1983 and 1994, Roma visited the Trinidad and Pampa community in the Yungas to assault minors. But the bulk of his crimes occurred between 1994 and 2005, when he was appointed missionary in Charagua, a town in the southeast of Bolivia (at that time home to about 2,500 inhabitants), where most of the population was Guaraní. There he wrote a diary in which he detailed his abuse: “I touch the whole [of their bodies] with my hands... I feel the heat of the intimate area, with natural warmth! How beautiful these girls are. [When they’re] naked, they smell like soap!”

Roma recorded the names of 70 of his victims, although the number of victims, according to the investigation, is likely to exceed one hundred. He also described how he photographed them, recorded them on video, and then masturbated to that material. He gained the trust of the minors with gifts and then took them to his room, where he assaulted them and took photos of them. “Today, 10 girls came to my room and I must have taken about 95 photos of the dear little girls.” He also took the girls on excursions to a nearby stream in the town, where he took photos of them and abused them.

Impunity

Evidence of Roma’s secret diary first emerged in 2008. The priest had been transferred to the city of Sucre three years earlier, and there one of his companions came across his images on the common computer of the community where they lived. He reported it to a superior, but the superior did nothing. At that time, the woman who was cleaning the pedophile’s room came across photo clippings showing explicit scenes of Roma raping a minor. In the interrogation as part of the Jesuit internal investigation, this woman said that she was afraid and did not reveal what she had seen until 2016. She told another Jesuit. He, in turn, said that he reported Lucho Roma to the provincial superior (the highest position of power in the Jesuit Order), but this person did nothing either.

The Jesuits did not react until 2019, when another former colleague of Roma told a journalist from Spain’s Efe news agency that he had also seen Roma’s photographs on the common computer in 2008, that he saved copies on a memory device and that, since then, he had kept it a secret. The reporter reported his discovery to the Jesuits and published the news, but without providing details or identifying the aggressor. It was then that the Jesuits opened the internal investigation, found all the material that Roma continued to hoard, questioned his companions and acquaintances, commissioned a psychiatric medical expert report and obtained a signed confession from the priest. It said: “I let myself be carried away, in some situations, by libidinous acts… with girls between the ages of eight and 11.” Shortly after, Lucho Roma died in Cochabamba. He was 84 years old. The Jesuits buried the entire case and locked it in a drawer.

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