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Bolivian protesters take to streets to ask for action over sexual abuse in church-run schools

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People protest with signs that read in Spanish "Shameless priest do not touch me" and "I march for sexual education without Church interference," outside the offices of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, May 15, 2023. (Photo by AP)

Bolivian protesters have taken to the streets to demand action over sex abuse allegations that have rocked the country's Catholic Church.

Angry protesters gathered in front of two churches in La Paz on Thursday, burning the effigy of a priest and demanding justice for the victims of abuses at the country’s church-run schools.  Protesters managed to write "rapist" on the exterior of the church.

Outrage over allegations of abuse was sparked by the publication of a memoir by a late Jesuit priest in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, which contained multiple confessions of sexually abused children at schools he ran in Bolivia. Church officials allegedly knew about the abuse but did nothing.

Since April, around 200 people have reported being harassed in the country's religious schools.

Bishops have said they will form two commissions to investigate abuse and help victims.

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia acknowledged on Wednesday that the institution had turned a deaf ear to sexual abuse at church-run schools, and claimed that they were taking action after a series of allegations in recent weeks led to protests and a legal investigation.

"As a Church... we are certain of having taken part, directly or indirectly, in deep pain inflicted on innocent people who were victims of sexual abuse and of an insufficient handling of the situation," Bolivia's Catholic bishops said.

Global abuse scandals have tarnished the church's reputation and are a major challenge for Pope Francis, who over the past 10 years has enacted a series of measures aimed at making the church hierarchy more accountable, with mixed results.

Earlier this month, President Luis Arce wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking for access to files related to allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Bolivia.

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