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Abuse Cases Exist, Mexico Bishops Say

Religion: 'We are not angels,' a conference official says, adding that a lack of data, not secrecy, keeps the issue quiet.

April 13, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL and RAFAEL AGUIRRE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MEXICO CITY — Roman Catholic bishops meeting at an annual church conference in a suburb of this capital city acknowledged this week that some Mexican clergy members had committed child abuse, but they could not provide any numbers. One insisted that the clergy's "dirty laundry would best be washed at home."

Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago, the bishop of Leon and vice president of the Mexican Bishops Conference, said at a news conference Wednesday that cases do exist.

"We are not angels. We live in an environment in which this problem exists," Martin Rabago said. He said it's not that the church is unwilling to disclose the cases, it's that "we simply do not have the data."

The bishop of Jalapa, Sergio Obeso, said Thursday that any such cases would be analyzed in-house before being made public. But invoking the "dirty laundry" phrase, he said he was inclined to keep such cases under wraps.

Questions about possible abuses involving Mexican priests arose frequently at news conferences given by the bishops during their annual conference, which ran from Monday through Friday.

The issue is topical because of the scandals in several Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States involving church cover-ups of child abuse cases, including some involving repeat offenders who were merely transferred to other parishes.

Roberto Blancarte, a professor and church expert at the Colegio de Mexico here, said the cultural pressures that have kept cases quiet are probably stronger in Mexico than in the United States.

"Here in Mexico, people seem to just keep silent about the whole subject," Blancarte said.

Some bishops defended keeping such cases out of public view, with Bishop Renato Ascencio Leon of Ciudad Juarez saying they are best handled by applying canonical law, under which the maximum penalty would be expulsion from the church. Only if the civil authorities find out about specific abuse should civil law apply, he said.

"It's not our duty to hand over our sons to civil authorities. A father would never hand over his son," Ascencio Leon said.

But Blancarte said evading the civil process is "totally illegal and irresponsible."

"This may be a sin in the church, but it is a crime in the state," Blancarte said. "There is no reason they can hide someone who has committed a crime as serious as sexual abuse of children."

The professor said such an attitude is a holdover from the 19th century, when the Mexican clergy had special immunity from civil laws. Such exemptions ended with Mexico's constitutional reforms of the 1850s.

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