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Bishops suspend priest convicted of child sex abuse, reopen probe

A Catholic parishioner holds a rosary during a mass in Caracas, Venezuela, on Dec. 15. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ana Vanessa Herrero /

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 returned to the ministry, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came just over two weeks after The Washington Post reported on the case of the Rev. Luis Alberto Mosquera, the priest in 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 resume his work as 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 scrutinized by The Post for the report published in June. In half of the cases, dating from 2001 to 2022, The Post found that convicted priests were released early from their sentences or served no prison time at all. In at least three cases, they were allowed to return to ministry.

Bishop Mario del Valle Moronta Rodríguez, the first vice president of the Venezuelan Conference of Bishops, told reporters in Caracas on Wednesday that Mosquera had been suspended from ministry while the investigation was reopened. It was not clear whether the church was investigating new allegations or reviewing the incident in which he was convicted.

“I cannot tell you the exact date because I am not the bishop of Barquisimeto, but he has been suspended,” Moronta said.

Mosquera confirmed to The Post that he was suspended June 29, eight days after The Post 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 Law Canonical and for the good of the Church, has decided to suspend my ecclesiastic licenses,” Mosquera said in a message that he also shared with parishioners in Lara.

“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 this adverse circumstance,” he told parishioners. “I invite you to persevere in the same faith.”

“There has been no complaint and yet they subject me again to public contempt,” Mosquera told The Post. “But I still remain calm, serene, and patient.”

The bishops held an unusual news 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 the state of Falcón. He said the Church was conducting a “serious investigation” into other cases but would share the results only if civil authorities request because “it is the norm of the church to maintain confidentiality.”

Moronta opened the news conference by reading from a lengthy statement. He said the bishops were “committed to making our Church instances safe places for everyone” through “different initiatives” against abuse. He didn’t describe actions against bishops who didn’t report cases to the Vatican.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moronta suggested the church has been unfairly singled out for criticism.

“It is noteworthy that they investigate us but not other entities, not only religious but professional, where the number of sexual abuses is greater,” he said. “I am not justifying anything — we assume our responsibility — but there are other places where these cases have occurred and nobody says anything.”

Samantha Schmidt in Minneapolis contributed this to the report.

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