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Venezuelan bishops suspend priest Luis Alberto Mosquera, convicted of child molestation, and reopen investigation

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

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

Mosquera’s case was one of 10 cases involving allegations of child sex abuse investigated by The Post for the report published in June. In half of the cases between 2001 and 2022, The Post found that convicted priests were released early from their prison sentences or served no prison time at all. In at least three cases they were allowed to return to service.

In Venezuela, priests convicted of abuse have returned to ministry

Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodríguez, the first vice-president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, told reporters in Caracas on Wednesday that Mosquera had been suspended from duty pending the reopening of the investigation. It was not clear if the church was investigating new allegations or reviewing the incident in which he was sentenced.

“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.

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

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

“There was no complaint and yet they are again subjecting me to public contempt,” Mosquera told The Post. “But I still remain calm, composed and patient.”

In Venezuela, sacerdotes condenados por abuso han vuelto al ministerio

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 ministry after pleading guilty to committing a carnal act against a 14-year-old in Falcón state. He said the church is conducting a “serious investigation” into other cases but would not share the findings unless civil authorities so request because “it is the church’s norm to maintain confidentiality.”

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

Moronta said the bishops had set up a prevention committee made up of bishops, priests, nuns and “faithful lay experts in the field.” He did not give any further details.

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

Venezuelan and international reporters asked questions about specific cases. Moronta did not answer in detail.

“The fact that there may be some bishops or religious superiors who have not taken the appropriate steps does not mean that there has been an omission,” he said. Then he and three other church officials left the room.

A 10-year-old rape victim wanted an abortion. A judge demanded: stay pregnant.

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

“You have no idea how many cases there are,” Hernández said. “That’s why they kept dodging 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 dissatisfied with the bishops’ response.

Moronta suggested that the church was wrongly singled out for criticism.

“It’s remarkable that they’re investigating us, but not other entities, not only religious but also professional, where the number of sexual assaults is higher,” he said. “I’m not justifying anything – we take our responsibilities – but there are other places where these cases have happened and nobody is saying anything.”

Samantha Schmidt in Minneapolis contributed to the report.