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At long last: Argentine court finds two Catholic priests guilty of sexually assaulting deaf children; first convictions in long-alleged abuse

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Anthony Faiola, Chico Harlan, and Stefano Pitrelli report in the Washington Post:

An Argentine court on Monday found two priests and a lay worker guilty of the sexual abuse and rape of 10 former students of a Catholic institute for the deaf, the first legal victory for a string of hearing-impaired victims stretching from Italy to the Andes whose denunciations against one of the clerics to church officials including Pope Francis went unheeded for years.

The landmark verdict related to the Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in the western Argentine city of Luján de Cuyo is the latest stain on the church’s handling of sex abuse cases in Francis’s native Argentina. Argentine prosecutors last week requested an international arrest warrant for Catholic Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta — a longtime associate of the pope accused of sexually abusing two seminarians.

 A Washington Post investigation this year found years of inaction by the church in the case of at least one of the accused priests. The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

[‘The pope ignored them’: Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings]

The three-judge panel in the northwestern Argentine province of Mendoza ruled against the three defendants in 25 instances of abuse between 2004 and 2016.

The Rev. Nicola Corradi, an 83-year-old Italian priest who appeared in a wheelchair, averted his gaze as the court sentenced him to 42 years in prison. Corradi’s name appeared on a list of alleged sexual predator priests denounced by deaf former students of a Provolo institute in Italy that was sent to Pope Francis in 2014. Francis was personally handed the letter a year later by one of the victims.

The Rev. Horacio Corbacho, a 59-year-old Argentine priest, darted his eyes as he was sentenced to 45 years. Armando Gómez, a gardener at the institute, was sentenced to 18.

None of the defendants spoke before the sentencing. Church officials and a lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Parents and the deaf former students — described by prosecutors as the “perfect victims” in that many could not communicate well even with their parents — celebrated the court’s verdict. Victims wrapped arms around each other outside the courtroom, dancing in circle.

“You have no idea how important this is for us, and for the world,’ said Ariel Lizárraga, a 48-year old factory worker whose deaf daughter was abused at Provolo Institute in the 2000s. “The church has been trying to hide these abuses. But these priests raped and abused our children. Our deaf children! Today, the taboo against accusing priests stops here.”

The three men were arrested in 2016 after a raid of the school by Argentine authorities tipped by a female victim who had come forward with the aid of an interpreter. Within weeks, investigators had uncovered one of the worst cases in the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. Church officials and local employees allegedly preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

Witnesses testified that the deaf children were not allowed to learn sign language, and instead were given lessons to speak like the hearing — an approach that left many unable to communicate with their parents. Prosecutors said the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding.

Students were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips — a demand for silence.

Corradi, spiritual director of the school, had a decades-long career, first in Italy and later in Argentina. In Italy, Corradi was accused of molesting deaf children at a Provolo institute in Verona. His name first appeared the sworn statements of 15 former students of that school who described being sodomized. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members including Corradi.

[Argentine prosecutors seek abuse-related arrest of bishop who worked with Pope Francis]

In 2012, the diocese of Verona asked for forgiveness from the victims and sanctioned 24 of the accused, but Corradi was not among them. None of the Italian cases ever went to trial.

Corradi’s name appeared again in the 2014 letter to the Pope, and later handed to him, that reiterated the potential danger he posed in Argentina.

“We hope the prosecutors now will launch a criminal investigation of the archbishops and other Church leaders who knew or should have known that child abusers were running that school,” Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of the cleric abuse database, said in a statement. “The Pope too must accept responsibility for the unimaginable suffering of these children. He ignored repeated warnings that Corradi was in Argentina.”

After the Provolo institute in Lujan de Cuyo was shut down by Argentine authorities, the Vatican sent two priests to investigate the charges there in 2017. Dante Simon, a judicial vicar, told the Associated Press that the “horrible” allegations are “more than plausible.” He said the pontiff expressed his sadness and told him that “he was very worried about this situation.”

In a report submitted to the Vatican that June, the AP reported, Simon requested the maximum canonical penalty for Corradi and Corbacho: That they be made to “resign directly by the Holy Father.” The report must be reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the AP reported.

In Argentina, the church, including Francis, has been accused of moving too slow and keeping Corradi in contact with vulnerable children despite years of allegations against him.

[Why the Vatican continues to struggle with sex abuse scandals] . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. The Catholic church is a moral failure.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 11:50 am

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