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Priest abuse scandal grows in Latin America

A scandal in Brazil erupted when a TV network broadcast a tape purportedly showing an elderly cleric in bed with a 19-year-old former altar boy.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The detention of an 83-year-old priest in Brazil for allegedly abusing boys as young as 12 has added to the scandals hitting the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America, even as Chile's bishops asked pardon on Tuesday for past sexual abuse cases.

The allegations against Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa — and two other Brazilian priests — have made headlines throughout the world's most populous Catholic nation and come amid accusations of sexual abuse by priests across the world.

The scandal erupted when Brazilian television network SBT last month broadcast a tape purportedly showing Barbosa in bed with a 19-year-old that was widely distributed on the Internet.

The station said the video was secretly filmed in January 2009 and sent anonymously to the network. It was not clear if the 19-year-old, identified as a former altar boy who had worked with Barbosa for four years, had previous sexual relations with the priest.

SBT reporters went to Barbosa's house and confronted him. Asked if he ever abused boys, Barbosa said he could only answer such a question "in confession" and cut off the interview.

Brazil's legislature launched a sex abuse investigation, which produced allegations that Barbosa molested boys. The elderly priest was detained late Sunday. Prosecutors will now decide whether to file child abuse charges.

Barbosa's lawyer, Edson Maia, plans to seek his release from detention, citing the man's advanced age and arguing he has a fixed address and does not pose a flight risk, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported Tuesday.

Congressional investigators said more than 20 witnesses were called and some testified Barbosa and two other priests in the same northeastern archdiocese had abused boys as young as 12, plying them with money, clothes and other gifts.

Bishop Valerio Breda of the Penedo archdiocese in the northeastern state of Alagoas said recently that all three priests had been suspended and that the church was conducting its own investigation. Breda could not be reached Tuesday.

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops does not plan to comment on the case and all questions should be directed to the local diocese, spokesman Geraldo Martins said.

Accusations mount
Latin Americans priests have faced a cascade of accusations of abuse of minors.

A priest in Chile was charged recently with eight cases of sexually abusing minors, including a girl he had fathered.

Chile's bishops' conference issued a statement Tuesday apologizing for priestly sexual abuse and vowing a "total commitment" to prevent it in the future.

"There is no place in the priesthood for those who abuse minors and there are no pretexts whatever that can justify this crime," said Monsignor Alejandro Goic, president of the Episcopal Conference.

"To the people directly affected and to the communities in Chile that have found reason for scandal in some priest, we ask pardon and urge them to tell us of these events," he said.

On Tuesday, a Mexican citizen filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. federal court in California against former priest Nicolas Aguilar Rivera and the Roman Catholic cardinals of Mexico City and Los Angeles, claiming they moved the priest between the two nations to hide abuse allegations. An advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the plaintiff alleges Aguilar molested him in the mid-1990s when he was 12.

Two other lawsuits against Aguilar Rivera have been thrown out by California state judges who ruled a Mexican citizen could not sue another Mexican citizen in a U.S. court, but the advocacy group said the new suit employs an 1789 federal law that allows a foreigner to file a civil claim in the United States.

The whereabouts of Aguilar Rivera in Mexico are unknown.

Benedict's comments spur outrage
In a report last week, The Associated Press detailed how its reporters around the globe had found 30 cases of priests accused of abuse who were transferred or moved abroad by the church and some escaped police investigations. Many had access to children in other countries, and some abused again. The probe spanned 21 nations across six continents.

Feeding the controversy, Pope Benedict XVI's second-in-command outraged many last week in Chile when he said homosexuality and not celibacy was the primary reason for the abuse.

"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told reporters April 12 at a news conference in Santiago. "That is the problem."

The comments by Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, were condemned by gay advocacy groups, politicians and even the French government.

On Sunday, a teary-eyed Pope Benedict XVI met with abuse victims in Malta and said the church will do everything possible to protect children and bring abusive priests to justice, the Vatican said.

The emotional moment carried no new admissions from the Vatican, which has strongly rejected accusations that efforts to cover up for abusive priests were directed by the church hierarchy for decades. But the pontiff told the men that the church would "implement effective measures" to protect children, the Vatican said, without offering details.