Despite the fact that Pope Francis struggles to make good on his “zero tolerance” pledge to fight clerical sex abuse worldwide, victims in his native Argentina are denouncing abuses in unprecedented numbers. Analysis by The Associated Press shows that the number of clerics publicly identified as alleged sexual abusers has increased dramatically in the last two years.
Karen Maydana says she was 9 years old when the Rev. Carlos Jose fondled her at a church pew facing the altar. She decided to speak about abuse publicly after hearing that two women who attended her school in the Argentine town of Caseros were allegedly abused by the same priest. She joined them as complainants in a case that in July led to his arrest on investigation of aggravated sexual abuse. Jose has told the court he is innocent and said the statute of limitations has expired in any case. He is appealing the arrest order.
According to some experts, this trend is a result of the spike to a cultural shift as victims feel more emboldened to denounce abuse; prosecutors are more inclined to investigate complaints of even decades-old abuse. Also the media are increasingly aggressive about reporting them and courts are willing to hand down stiff sentences. “It’s a domino effect,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based group that compiles a clergy abuse database.
The AP compiled a list of 66 priests, nuns and brothers who have been accused since 2001 of abusing dozens of people, most of them children. The figures were gathered in conjunction with the BishopAccountability.org database and from testimonies by victims, judicial and church documents, and local media reports. Since the start of last year, victims have named 21 more; most accused of decades-old abuse.
The good news is that abuse survivors are taking action too. Maydana and her schoolmates — 29-year-old Mailin Gobbo and 25-year-old Yasmin Detez — recently visited the church and adjacent school they had attended to describe what happened to journalists, saying they hoped it would help protect children. Four other women have joined their case since they reported the priest to law enforcement.
San Francisco Bishop Sergio Buenanueva said the church is planning to create its first comprehensive database of clerical abuse to deal with increasing numbers of these disclosures. “In Argentina, the abuse crisis is just beginning,” said San Francisco Bishop Sergio Buenanueva in Cordoba province, who leads a church council on clerical abuse. “I’m sure the Argentine church is going to face increasing numbers of these disclosures.”
A court in Entre Rios province this year sentenced a Colombian priest, the Rev. Juan Diego Escobar Gaviria, to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing four boys, one of them only 10 years old. It was one of the stiffest sentences handed down to date against a pedophile priest in Argentina. Such strict punishment should become conventional in cases of child abuse in order to minimize it.
Photo Credits: Aleteia