While the French church admits that at least 216,000 minors have been victims of sexual abuse by priests and Pope Francis speaks of “shame”; In Colombia, through judicial channels, priests try to prevent the circulation of a book that denounces an aberrant case of pedophilia. This is the lamb of god (Planet) tells the story of a man who reports having been sexually abused since he was a child and induced into prostitution by 38 priests. Since it was launched a month ago, it has received seven lawsuits to prevent the publisher from continuing to reproduce it.
Colombian Juan Pablo Barrientos, its author, is synonymous with persistence. A journalist by trade, he has been denouncing the sexual abuse of the Church in Colombia for more than six years, but especially what he calls “the criminal cover-up system”, the transfers of denounced priests between parishes in different cities, the difficulties for complaints to reach to the criminal authorities. After a long legal battle, he managed to get the Colombian Constitutional Court to force the Church to hand over its files on pedophilia to him or to any journalist who requests them.
His first book, Let the children come to me, counted dozens of cases and caused sting in a society as Catholic as Colombia, lawsuits and threats rained on him. The current one focuses on a single victim, Pedro, who with his complaint put in check the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, in central Colombia, and also the struggle of three women who managed to prevent the case from remaining in the Church and reaching to the Prosecutor’s Office of the country, where it still rests without progress.
Question. The book has received seven lawsuits, you have won five and await sentencing on the others. Why do you think the Church has mobilized like this?
Answer. They fear the story of the book itself. Pedro’s account attests that there are many minors involved. And when you see that devastating report from France with 216,000 victims for 70 years, you understand that the thing is much bigger and that it is kept in its secret files. These guardianships to censor the book are aimed at covering a story that shows what the modus operandi of the Catholic Church, not only in Colombia but in all the cities of the world, because it is a traced behavior. Lo de Francia is a photograph of what is happening all over the world.
P. What are the strategies most used by pedophile priests to evade justice?
R. They are similar everywhere, because the Code of Canon Law establishes what the Secret Archive is, as the place where these complaints against priests lie. The key then is to get to the secret files that are protected by the Concordats.
P. You denounce that in Colombia the Church does not give all the information to the Prosecutor’s Office.
R. In the Colombian case, there is a concordat (treaty between the Vatican State and the Republic of Colombia) signed in 1973 and an article that says that the Church will have autonomy and the civil authority cannot interfere. In addition, the Episcopal Conference told him that it would not give them information on the dead priests or the cases they prescribed. With these words, the Church eliminates the victims of 40, 30, 20 and 10 years of age. In which head can the Church say ‘yes, we have files and many complaints, but we do not hand them over to the civil authority’? Please, they are not sins, they are crimes, and the most aberrant.
P. In Pedro’s case, he went to denounce the church. What was the key to moving this case forward?
R. The French investigation was a civil commission commissioned by the Church. In Villavicencio it was the same, Archbishop Óscar Urbina put two retired people, two women believers, thinking that they were going to be honest with these atrocities. They refused and managed to get Pedro’s complaint addressed by the authorities. When the Church saw that these women were uncovering the rot, they sent two men from the ecclesiastical court of appeals to take away their functions. I believe that if pedophilia is to be eradicated, women must have the same leading role within the church, not be treated as slaves, as happens for example with nuns.
P. He has said that he still has 200 complaints to verify. What is the pattern of the victims like?
R. Most of the victims are male children, poor, from dysfunctional families, and who have been altar boys or acolytes. The fact that they are very poor means that they do not have to pay a lawyer and the first place they go is to the dioceses to report. That gives the Church the ability to maneuver and buy or silence them if that is the case. They are not isolated cases, there is a structure that allows this to happen.
P. How is that modus operandi of the cover-up? He speaks in his book that it is a transnational organized crime structure …
R. The UN defines organized crime when two or more people come together for the purpose of crime and have been doing it for some time. There are priests who do not rape, but they know that others did and they remain silent. They do it because they are part of a structure that is organized to protect the pedophile and the institution, which has allowed that man to act from parish to parish. What came to light in France reveals it. He who rapes is as criminal as he who conceals.
P. What do you think of the actions of Pope Francis in relation to pedophilia?
R. Francisco is a great smoke salesman with great lines who makes big headlines in the media, but his behavior has been contrary to many victims. In principle, he did not believe the victims of Chile; he protected Cardinal George Pell, who was later acquitted by justice, as well as Cardinal de Lion. On the one hand, he talks about apologizing to the victims, on the other, he defends pedophiles and does not make substantive decisions. For example, three years ago it was shown that the Archbishop of Medellín covered up pedophiles or that of Villavicencio, the protagonist of this book. So if there were a real intention of Francis to eradicate pedophilia in the world that would be seen with profound changes in the Church at the local level.
P. You managed to get the Constitutional Court to deliver those files to journalists, have you been able to access them easily?
R. I thought I was going to have everything, but I have encountered more resistance and some judges, despite a sentence, protect the secret archives of the Catholic Church. For example, I have asked the Archdiocese of Medellín for information on 105 priests, of which there are 30 with complaints. Then, attaching the Court’s ruling, I asked for 915 more. They did not want to answer me. Half of the royalties from this book are for Pedro, the rest are for the journalistic project #elarchivosecreto that allows us to dive in and cross information of the hundreds of complaints and victims in Colombia.
P. What is Peter’s life like after denouncing this network of priests?
R. He is threatened, hidden, scared and waiting for the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office to do something. They raided the facilities of the Curia, but nothing more. He wants some government to help him get out of the country. The priests were suspended by the church, although they continue to pay their salaries, and there has been no action by the prosecution.
P. And for you, what has it meant to champion these investigations?
R. It has been four years of threats, fights, insults or people who walk away because they think I am attacking their religion. It has also meant emotional exhaustion: I receive three complaints a week of events from months or 10 years ago. On the other hand, a judicial wear and tear that I must pay with a non-existent patrimony. But also meeting very brave people. I would hope that one day I would not have to do it any more, that the armor would fall and that at that moment the State would take charge and not a journalist.
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