Venezuelan bishops suspend priest Luis Alberto Mosquera, convicted of child sex abuse, reopen investigation

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CARACAS, Venezuela — The Catholic Church in Venezuela has reopened its investigation into a priest who was convicted of sexually abusing a child but was later referred to the ministry, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came just over two weeks after the Washington Post reported the case of Reverend Luis Alberto Mosquera, the priest from Venezuela’s Lara state. Mosquera, 63, was convicted in 2006 of abusing a 6-year-old boy and sentenced to more than seven years in prison, but in 2008 he was released and allowed by the church to return to work of a priest. A photo posted on his Facebook page in 2016 and reposted in 2017 showed him surrounded by children.

Mosquera’s case was one of 10 involving allegations of child sexual abuse reviewed by The Post for the report published in June. In half of the cases, dating from 2001 to 2022, The Post found that the convicted priests were released early from their sentences or had not served any prison time. In at least three cases they were allowed to resume ministry.

In Venezuela, priests found guilty of abuse have taken over the ministry

Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodríguez, first vice president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, told reporters in Caracas on Wednesday that Mosquera had been suspended from his ministry while the investigation reopened. It was unclear whether the church was investigating new allegations or reviewing the incident in which he was convicted.

“I can’t tell you the exact date because I’m not the bishop of Barquisimeto, but he was suspended,” Moronta said.

Mosquera confirmed to the Post that he was suspended on June 29, eight days after the Post’s report was published.

“Due to the publications of the American newspaper The Washington Post and the pressures of several NGOs and human rights activists…the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Barquisimeto, according to the crime established by the Code of Canon Law and for the good of the Church, has decided to suspend my ecclesiastical licenses,” Mosquera said in a post he also shared with Lara parishioners.

“I declare my willingness to submit with obedience, silence and humility to the process and reaffirm my adherence to the creed of the Catholic Church even in these adverse circumstances,” he told parishioners. “I invite you to persevere in the same faith.”

“There were no complaints and yet they are again subjecting me to public contempt,” Mosquera told the Post. “But I always remain calm, serene and patient.”

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The bishops held an unusual press conference on Wednesday to discuss the church’s response to allegations of sexual abuse by its priests.

Moronta, the bishop of San Cristóbal, announced an investigation into another priest who returned to the ministry after pleading guilty to committing a carnal act against a 14-year-old in Falcón state. He said the Church was conducting a “serious investigation” into other cases, but would only share findings if requested by civil authorities, as “it is the standard of the Church to maintain confidentiality.”

Moronta opened the press conference by reading a lengthy statement. He said the bishops were “committed to making our church bodies safe places for all” through “various initiatives” against abuse. He did not describe actions against bishops who did not report the cases to the Vatican.

Moronta said the bishops had established a prevention committee comprising bishops, priests, nuns and “expert lay faithful in the field.” He did not provide further details.

“We are aware that we can always do more, and we are ready to do so in synergy with other institutions,” he said.

Venezuelan and international journalists asked about specific cases. Moronta did not respond in detail.

“The fact that there may be bishops or religious superiors who did not take corresponding action does not mean that there was an omission,” he said. Then he and three other church leaders left the room.

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Víctor Hernández, who says he was abused by a priest, called the press conference “terrible”. The bishops, he said, were “obviously nervous.”

“They have no idea how many cases there are,” Hernández said. “That’s why they kept avoiding the question,” he said.

Since the Post’s report was published, at least five people have contacted the newspaper to share other cases. Most said they were unhappy with the bishops’ response.

Moronta suggested the church was unfairly singled out for criticism.

“It should be noted that they are investigating us but not other entities, not only religious but professional, where the number of sexual abuses is higher,” he said. “I don’t justify anything – we take responsibility – but there are other places where these cases have happened and no one is saying anything.”

Samantha Schmidt in Minneapolis contributed this to the report.

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