OAXACA, Mexico (ChurchMilitant.com) – A Mexican archbishop is being accused of protecting a priest many claim abused up to 100 children.
In a press conference held Tuesday, multiple priests and activists charged José Luis Chávez Botello, the archbishop of Antequere-Oaxaca, with intentionally concealing sexual abuse reportedly perpetrated by a diocesan priest.
Several speakers at the conference, which was held by the Oaxaca Children’s Forum, claim the Rev. Gerardo Silvestre Hernández molested “more than 100 victims,” with the first instance of abuse occurring nearly a decade ago.
“In 2006, Gerardo Silvestre abused a nine-year-old boy during a six-month internship,” asserted Alejandro de Jesus from the Oaxaca Children’s Forum. This occurred, de Jesus continued, while Silvestre was serving the San Pablo Huitzo parish in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Since the initial alleged abuse, Fr. Silvestre has served in various parishes throughout Oaxaca. He is currently behind bars pending trial after the Oaxaca attorney general’s office accused him in 2013 of pederasty involving two indigenous minors.
At the conference, the mother of one of the alleged victims read a letter addressed to Pope Francis, scheduled to visit the country next month, pleading for justice and the assurance that “this doesn’t happen again.”
The Oaxaca Children’s Forum is seeking reparation for the molestations and sanctions on those “indirectly” involved with the abuse, whom it accuses of “protecting the victimizers instead of safeguarding the victims.” The forum also directly charged Abp. Chávez with withholding evidence of the abuse from the Vatican.
One of the speakers was Fr. Apolonio Merino Hernández, who testified he had been transferred by the archdiocese to a remote parish after speaking out about the abuses. Others corroborated Merino’s statements, claiming Church authorities blatantly refused to meet with any of the purported victims despite the priest’s efforts.
Father Merino stated the archdiocese blackmailed him last year, threatening to suspend his faculties and to reveal that he himself had fathered multiple children. In an interview Tuesday, Fr. Merino admitted the allegations against him are true and that he did in fact have a family, but he explained that he decided to expose the abuses regardless of his secrets. Father Merino additionally claimed the archdiocese offered him a bribe of 8,000 pesos to remain silent.
The priest’s faculties were suspended in August last year.
In the same interview, Fr. Merino explained that celibacy among Mexican priests is a massive issue and that “most priests” in Oaxaca have children. The numbers of clergy with families, he says, run as high as 70 percent out of the 124 priests in Oaxaca.
The archdiocese of Oaxaca has not publicly spoken on the allegations against Abp. Chávez.