“I can do something different; that’s why today I’m not in crisis, and I am sure of my vocation, because I know that I am in the right place where all the good that I wanted to do I can continue doing.”
In the wake of the sexual abuse of minors scandal that broke out in April involving various members of the Society of Jesus in Bolivia, the country’s provincial superior, Father Bernardo Mercado, said that not even if he “were crazy” would he have entered the Jesuit order if he had known the real situation involving those members accused of pederasty.
The priest was interviewed recently by the special commission for the investigation of crimes of sexual abuse taking place in ecclesial environments recently created by the Bolivian Chamber of Senators, ATB Digital media reported.
Referring to the numerous Jesuits accused of sexual abuse, Father Mercado said: “Personally, for me they were great missionaries.”
The Jesuit provincial made the comparison to the members of the commission: “It’s as if [growing up] I were looking at you [senators] and one day I wanted to be like you.”
“At no time did I see [the Jesuits involved] with these characteristics that we are putting on them today,” he said in reference to the pedophilia.
“If I had known, not even if I were crazy would I become a Jesuit,” he remarked.
The president of the commission, Sen. Luis Adolfo Flores, asked Mercado about whether he was aware of the history of abuse committed in other countries by Jesuits Alfonso Pedrajas, Carlos Vilamil Olea, Francesc Peris, Francisco Pifarré, Jorge Vila Despujol, Luis María Roma Padrosa, Antonio “Tuco” Gausset Capdevila, and Luis Tó.
“As an institution I don’t know if they had a record,” he replied.
However, he said he knew of them and had a good perception of them, including Alfonso Pedrajas, whose case became widely known when the Spanish newspaper El País published a report in April revealing the existence of a personal diary in which the priest recorded at least 85 incidents where he sexually abused minors during his ministry in Bolivia.
Following that report, more complaints of sexual abuse and cover-up involving different Jesuits began to emerge.
“For God’s sake! They tell me the stories and I say: What are you telling me?” the provincial exclaimed regarding Pedrajas. “I knew him as an old man, sick, already in his last days, quite far gone.”
“Now, it’s evident that no one is carrying a sign saying ‘I am what I am,’” he explained, referring to the fact that it wasn’t possible to imagine the crimes by the mere fact of knowing the person.
Although he acknowledged that, if he had known, he would not have joined the Jesuit order, Father Mercado said at this point in his life, “I can do something different; that’s why today I’m not in crisis, and I am sure of my vocation, because I know that I am in the right place where all the good that I wanted to do I can continue doing.”
Backed by a judicial ruling, the provincial declined to reveal details of the number of trials and complaints from victims that are being pursued by the public prosecutor’s office.
Father Mercado is 42 years old and has been provincial for 11 months, which he finds quite unusual. The priest said that his appointment took him by surprise, since it’s a promotion that older religious normally get due to experience.
In mid-May, the superior made a statement on the abuses, acknowledging that the Society of Jesus had made mistakes in handling cases perpetrated by members of the community in previous years.
He also encouraged his fellow Jesuits to cooperate with the justice system.
Summoned by the public prosecutor’s office, Father Mercado himself went at the end of the same month to testify as a defendant in the cases of pedophilia that allegedly took place at John XXIII School in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.