RIO DE JANEIRO – RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest in Brazil is facing charges he abused eight boys in cases dating back to 1995, prosecutors said Wednesday, adding to a growing list of allegations against clergy in Latin America.
Father Jose Afonso, 74, is accused of abusing altar boys between the ages of 12 and 16, Sao Paulo state prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement.
Prosecutors said the reported abuses occurred this year, in 2009 and in 2001 in the city of Franca, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Sao Paulo city. At least one case was reported in 1995 in the neighboring state of Minas Gerais.
Afonso remains free while a judge decides if he should be jailed.
Calls to the Franca diocese rang unanswered. After-hours of calls to the offices of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops were not returned.
The case is the latest to hit Brazil, which has more Catholics than any other nation, and Latin America as a whole.
Earlier this month, 83-year-old Monsignor Luiz Marques Barbosa was detained in northeastern Brazil for allegedly abusing at least three boys after being caught on video tape having sex with a young man, a former alter boy.
He is under house arrest while an investigation continues. Two other priests in the same archdiocese as Barbosa are also accused of abuses.
A priest in Chile was charged recently with eight cases of sexually abusing minors, including a girl he had fathered.
Earlier this month Chile's bishops' conference issued a statement apologizing for priestly sexual abuse and vowing a "total commitment" to prevent it in the future.
Also this month, a Mexican citizen filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. federal court in California against former priest Nicolas Aguilar Rivera and the Roman Catholic cardinals of Mexico City and Los Angeles, claiming they moved the priest between the two nations to hide abuse allegations.
Church reaction to the controversy around the globe has angered many who think the Vatican leadership has not acted strongly enough.
Pope Benedict XVI's second-in-command outraged many this month in Chile when he said homosexuality and not celibacy was the primary reason for the abuse. The comments by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, were condemned by gay advocacy groups, politicians and even the French government.
Late Tuesday, a top Vatican official said the pope may issue a strong apology for the church's handling of clerical sexual abuse cases when he attends a meeting of the world's clergy in June.
Cardinal William Levada, who handles the abuse cases as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the comments in an interview broadcast on U.S. public broadcaster PBS, his first interview since the scandal erupted several weeks ago.
"It's a big crisis. I think no one should try to diminish that," Levada said.
He acknowledged the Vatican was caught by surprise, even though it was well aware of the scope of scandals in the U.S. and Ireland, but he also blamed "a certain media bias" for keeping the story alive.
Benedict has come under increasing pressure to admit some form of higher responsibility on the part of the Vatican for fomenting a culture of secrecy that allowed abuse to fester unchecked for decades.
Benedict has expressed sorrow and shame for the abuse, he has wept with victims and promised new measures to protect children and bring justice to pedophile priests. But he has admitted no personal or institutional responsibility, blaming instead the abusers themselves and their bishops for mishandling cases when they arose.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.