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Juan Pablo Barrientos: Challenging the Catholic Church’s secrecy on sexual abuse in Colombia

Juan Pablo Barrientos: Challenging the Catholic Church’s secrecy on sexual abuse in Colombia

Juan Pablo Barrientos

In 2016, journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos became inspired by the story of the Boston Globe’s investigative unit, Spotlight. Back in 2001, Spotlight had conducted a deep investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, leading to further investigations in different parts of the world. Barrientos decided to perform the same duty in Colombia, a country in which the Catholic Church is deeply rooted.

Leveraging Colombia’s law on “right to petition”, Barrientos started to file access to information requests to the Catholic Church. He immediately encountered challenges, however. Most of the information he was requesting related to the status of complaints against priests accused of paedophilia in Colombia. The Church refused to disclose this information, alleging that it was confidential. Barrientos took his case to the Constitutional Court and won a landmark judgment in 2020, ordering the Church to disclose information about 43 priests.

Pursuing the Investigation

Over the course of his investigations, Barrientos has published two books on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Colombia. Both books faced unsuccessful lawsuits by priests seeking injunctions to withhold publication.

As part of his ongoing investigation, Barrientos has filed a new request to the Catholic Church. This time he is investigating 915 priests accused of paedophilia. Although Barrientos is requesting similar information to that which the Constitutional Court found as admissible for disclosure in 2020, the Church rejected the request on the same confidentiality grounds as before. Furthermore, the Church emphasised that “Canon law” imposed a level of secrecy on the information requested. Once more, Barrientos has taken his case to the Constitutional Court and is awaiting judgment.

The intervention

We have filed an intervention in this new request by Barrientos at the Constitutional Court. Our submission focuses on the following three points:

  1. The general principles on the right to access to information take precedence over “Canon law”
  2. The right of access to information in Colombia’s Constitutional Law and International Human Rights Law
  3. Interfering in newsgathering activities is subject to a suspicion of unconstitutionality and is subject to the strictest scrutiny

 

Click on this link to find Media Defence’s intervention in Spanish.

If you are a journalist in need of support as a result of your reporting, please click here.

 

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