Photo: Duncan Andison

In June 2018, 34 Chilean bishops offered Pope Francis their resignations following the biggest child abuse scandal in the country’s history. Many of these bishops were directly involved in covering up sexual abuse accusations dating back to the 1980s. Just one year later, the Catholic Church sees itself amid yet another round of accusations—this time, with new cases of abuse and coverups in all 18 Latin American countries.

</p> <p>A new <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5afadb22e17ba3eddf90c02f/t/5dd3d1350fb697248c2c5048/1574162742199/executive_summary_english_s_final.pdf">report</a> by NGO Child Rights International Network (CRIN), entitled &#8220;The Third Wave: Justice for survivors of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Latin America,&#8221; looks not only into the scale of child abuse and coverups by the Church but also as how countries&#8217; laws and authorities fail to adequately protect children. CRIN says the first wave of abuse scandals took place in Ireland and North America, with the second taking place in Oceania and continental Europe.</p> <p>“There is a growing global wave of demands for accountability of the Catholic Church for the sexual abuse of children, especially now in more Catholic-majority countries,” said Leo Ratledge, CRIN’s legal and policy director.</p> <p>According to CRIN, up to 1,059 active complaints concern only Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia, the countries which are home to most registered cases. However, that doesn&#8217;t mean that these are necessarily the countries where the problem is most severe, as, in most places—Brazil included—there is practically no record of complaints against sexual predators inside the Church. And unlike Argentina, Costa Rica, and Paraguay, there has been no investigative journalism on the issue in other Latin American countries.</p> <p>The Catholic Church in Latin America has systematically tried to suppress abuse complaints and scandals by transferring abusive priests from one parish to another, often in other countries—a practice that continues to this day—offering secret payments to victims and their families in exchange for their silence, blaming victims and their families for the abuse, undermining the credibility of victims, manipulating victims psychologically so that they do not take legal action, and pressuring the media to not report on the issue.&nbsp;</p> <p>While these are tactics clergymen have used in nearly every child abuse scandal, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/guide-to-brazil/2017/10/15/brazil-religion/">political and social weight of the Church in Latin America</a> is bigger than in many other regions of the world.</p> <h2>Is Brazil worse at protecting child abuse victims?</h2> <p>According to the CRIN, no major investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Brazil was found and accountability efforts for clergy abuse are scarce. Among the limited data available, there is a Vatican <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/nov/26/brazil.religion">report</a> from 2005, according to which cases of child abuse rose by 70 percent—with at least 1,700 facing accusations.</p> <p>The cases that have come to light in Brazil show that the vast majority of victims are, unsurprisingly, from poor backgrounds—therefore more vulnerable and with less access to legal protections.</p> <p>The Catholic community in Brazil is the biggest in the world, with 123 million members.</p> <p>In January,<em> </em>television station <em>Globo</em> Magazine <a href="https://globoplay.globo.com/v/7314302/">reported</a> a massive sexual exploitation ring against underage aspiring priests inside the Archdiocese of Paraíba. The exposé led to an unprecedented verdict, with labor courts forcing the archdiocese to pay BRL 12 million in compensation to victims.</p> <p>A <a href="https://iberoeconomia.es/internacional/cuales-los-paises-america-latina-mas-impunidad/">study</a> from the University of the Américas Puebla (UDLAP) called “2017 Global Impunity Index,” revealed that, of the 13 worst countries positioned in the transparency and justice field, nine are in Latin America.</p> <p>“From a local criminal and intelligence point of view, the country must have an efficient and scientific investigative police, which is not the case in Brazil. The justice system has not handled such cases. That’s why human rights entities and social movements emerge, precisely to fill a gap left by the state,” said Flávio de Leão Bastos Pereira, a law professor at Mackenzie Presbyterian University and coordinator of the Brazilian Bar Association’s Human Rights Center, speaking to<strong> The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>“You can apply effective public policies if you build a reliable production of statistics. And besides the lack of efficient operations and official work, Latin American states don’t partner with the victims&#8217; families. It’s a structural problem.”

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SocietyNov 30, 2019

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BY Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs—specializing Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.