Church pedophilia scandal grows in Latin America

SAO PAULO (AP) — The detention of an 83-year-old priest in Brazil for allegedly abusing boys as young as 12 in a case involving lurid videotape and a congressional investigation has added to the scandals hitting the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America.

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 of 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 Barbosa molested boys. The elderly priest was detained late Sunday.

Judge Romulo Vasconcelos told Globo TV on Monday that he requested Barbosa's immediate detention out of fear the priest would flee the country.

The case now goes to prosecutors, who will decide whether to file child abuse charges.

Sen. Magno Malta, the Brazilian lawmaker leading the legislature's probe, called Barbosa's detention a milestone in the fight against child abuse in Brazil.

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

One of the accused priests, Edison Duarte, was given immunity for cooperating with authorities, Malta said in a statement issued by his senate office. The third priest — Raimundo Marques — also is being investigated but denies any wrongdoing. He has not been arrested.

Church officials have not responded to calls requesting information on where Barbosa and the other priests had worked in the past.

Barbosa told investigators that "he is not a pedophile," but after three former altar boys testified he had abused them, he asked for forgiveness, said Renato Paoliello, a spokesman for Malta.

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

Just this month, church officials in Uruguay confirmed they had not revealed the whereabouts to police of a defrocked priest who fled home to his family in Uruguay after a nun accused him of raping three children in Bolivia. And a priest in Chile was charged with eight cases of sexually abusing minors, including a girl he had fathered.

A Mexican woman charged in March that the deceased, scandal-tainted founder of a conservative Catholic religious order abused one of the two sons she said he fathered with her. The Legionaries of Christ, the order founded by the Rev. Marcial Maciel, acknowledged earlier in a separate case that Maciel had molested seminarians.

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.


Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.