Head of Catholic-run orphanage in Croatia charged with child abuse

Croatian police have charged ex-head of a Catholic-run orphanage Jelena Brajsa, accusing her of playing down numerouse cases of child abuse.

Brajsa - who was replaced Tuesday as head of the orphanage run by Catholic charity Caritas after more than 40 years - has been hospitalized with unspecified illness since police searched her house last week.

She is suspected of covering up abuse allegedly committed by a former janitor and a former cook, both of whom have also been arrested.

Brajsa has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the alleged abuse. She faces up to three years in prison if tried and convicted.

The case has shocked this predominantly Roman Catholic country since being made public with a 2002 government report on abuses at the orphanage, which cares for about 150 children in Brezovica, outside Zagreb. The case was dropped for a while, but reopened in April.

Police recently searched Brajsa's house and found a diary of the former orphanage cook in which he reportedly detailed sexual relations with orphans. Previously, she had said she did not have the diary.

The cook, Mijo Penic, 28, has been arrested on suspicion of raping two orphan girls in the late 1990s.

Police also arrested janitor Mario Barlovic, 52, in late June, charging him with sexually abusing a mentally disabled boy in 1995-99.

Brajsa was charged with allegedly abetting a criminal after he committed a crime and preventing police from acquiring evidence, namely the diary, said Krunoslav Borovac, who heads Zagreb police criminal department.

Aside from the three arrests, police have interrogated five other employees - including three nuns - suspected of harshly punishing orphans, the AP reports.

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