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Priests found guilty of sex abuse of Argentina deaf children in case ignored by Pope Francis

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

WARNING: This article contains explicit and disturbing content.

BUENOS AIRES, November 25, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- Two Catholic priests and a lay worker were found guilty and sentenced on Monday of serial sexual abuse and rape of children at a school for the deaf, where victims’ denunciations had gone unheeded by church hierarchy, including Pope Francis.

Rev. Nicola Corradi (83), Rev. Horacio Corbacho (59), and lay worker Armando Gomez (49) were silent as an Argentine court passed sentence for abusing at least 25 children under their care. Corradi sat in a wheelchair as he received a 42-year sentence from the three-judge panel in Mendoza, a city in northwestern Argentina bordering the Andes. Corbacho was likewise silent as he received a 45-year sentence. Gomez got 18 years. No appeal of the sentences was immediately made by the defense attorneys.

The three men were convicted of rape and sexual abuse of former students at the Provolo Insititute for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired in Luján de Cuyo, a town near Mendoza, the capital of the province of the same name. The two priests were also accused of beating the children. Two nuns are also accused of covering up the abuse.

After receiving a tip from a deaf female victim who communicated through an interpreter, authorities arrested the men in 2016 and raided the school. It was after this that authorities uncovered the extent of abuse committed by Catholic clerics, which included a network that stretched from Europe to South America. The Provolo Institute operates several schools for the deaf in Argentina and Italy. The boarding students, some of whom came from the poorest families, were targeted for abuse, especially at night in dormitories and at a chapel. 

Vulnerable children were raped, fondled, forced to view pornography, and sometimes tied up. In one case, a girl was forced to wear a diaper in order to conceal bleeding that resulted from rape. The sister of one of the victims wept in an interview earlier this year with LifeSiteNews as she recounted the abuse her loved one suffered at the hands of priests and religious at the Provolo Institute. Prosecuting attorney Sergio Salinas told LifeSiteNews in an interview in Argentina that Church authorities would not cooperate with his investigation. As sentences were announced on Monday, prosecuting attorneys and victims’ family members wept openly.

According to multiple witnesses, deaf children at Provolo Institute were not taught sign language but were instead taught to speak like the hearing. This meant that many were not able to communicate with their parents and the outside world. One of the few signs that the children knew was the raising of an index finger to the lips in order to signify a demand for silence.

Corradi was among clerics accused of abusing children at a similar school for the deaf in his native Italy. Fifteen former students testified that they had been sodomized as children at the Provolo Institute school in Verona. Twenty-four priests and other faculty were named in their testimony. While diocesan authorities of Verona asked forgiveness from the accusers, Corradi’s name was not among the priests and faculty who were sanctioned by the Church in 2012. Neither Corradi or the others faced criminal sanctions in Italy. But Corradi had already been transferred to South America.

Corradi left the Provolo Institute in Verona in 1969 and left for Argentina in January 1970. 

Abuser transferred to South America

Victims wrote a letter to Pope Francis in 2014 and warned him of the dangers posed to children by Corradi in Argentina. This was seconded by a letter that a victim gave to the Pope personally in October 2015, which named Corradi and 13 other priests. But it was not the Church that shuttered the school: it was Argentine prosecutors who shut it down two years after Pope Francis was advised of the abuses. 

While confined in a rest home in Italy, Fr. Eligio Piccoli -- a priest who worked at the Provolo Institute in Italy -- boasted in an undercover  2017 video about his sodomitic exploits. In addition to laughing as he admitted to sexually abusing boys at the school, he said that when the first accusations of abuse were aired at the school in Verona, he was told by Church authorities, “You had to choose ‘go home’ or ‘go to America.’” While Piccoli was eventually ordered by Church authorities to live a life of prayer and penitence, Corradi left for Argentina and was first stationed at another Provolo Institute school in La Plata, a city near Buenos Aires. There he remained until 1997, when he was transferred to the school in Mendoza as its director. Corradi may also face charges for his time in La Plata.

After the Provolo Institute school at Lujan de Cuyo was closed by law enforcement in Mendoza, two priests were sent by the Vatican in 2017 to investigate the accusations. A canonical investigation was undertaken by judicial vicar Dante Simon. In 2017, his report to the Vatican recommended that Corradi and Corbacho should receive the maximum sentences allowed under Church law, which would mean laicization. The recommendation is still being reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 

Pope Francis and other Church authorities are being criticized for moving too slowly with regard to the accusations in the Provolo case and others. Corradi, for instance, was in contact with children for decades despite the serious allegations against him during the time that the Pope served as archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Pope’s judgement and involvement have also been questioned in the case of disgraced Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, who stands accused of “aggravated continuous sexual abuse” of two former seminarians. He is also accused of defrauding the government of Argentina. 

A statement from the Mendoza diocese expressed its “solidarity and closeness to the victims and their families.” It went on to say: “What these people have expressed has horrified the entire society of Mendoza...All of us are ashamed and aggrieved.”

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