A court in Argentina has convicted two Roman Catholic priests and the former gardener of a church-run school for deaf students on 28 counts of sexual abuse and corruption of minors, in a case that has shaken the church in Pope Francis’s homeland.
A three-judge panel in the city of Mendoza sentenced Nicola Corradi to 42 years and Horacio Corbacho to 45 years for abusing children at the Antonio Provolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Lujan de Cuyo, a municipality in north-western Argentina.
Corradi, an 83-year-old Italian, and Corbacho, a 59-year-old Argentine, were arrested in 2016. The court also sentenced gardener Armando Gómez to 18 years in prison.
The verdicts can be appealed.
The judges found the men guilty of 20 counts of abuse, including rape, that occurred between 2005 and 2016 at the school, which has since shut down. The 10 victims were former students and all minors at the time of the abuse.
After the sentence was delivered, several of the victims expressed their joy in the courthouse hallway by jumping and raising their arms in the air, as if they were clapping. They also embraced the prosecutors who had investigated their cases.
“I am happy, thank you so much for the battle, because everyone has supported us … This has changed my life, which is evolving,” said Vanina Garay, 26.
The case has shocked Argentines – as did the revelation that Corradi had been previously accused of similar offences at a sister agency, the Antonio Provolo Institute in Verona, Italy, but was never charged.
The Vatican had known about Corradi since at least 2009, when the Italian Provolo students went public with tales of abuse and named names. The Vatican ordered an investigation and sanctioned four accused priests, but Corradi apparently never was sanctioned in Italy.
The defendants, who had pleaded innocence, declined to make statements ahead of the judges’ ruling. They appeared somber as they arrived in the courtroom, with Corradi in a wheelchair, his gaze fixed on the ground.
In a statement, the Archbishopric of Mendoza expressed “solidarity and closeness with the victims and their families, who have reported suffering the most aberrant mistreatment” and vowed to “keep working to ensure that these situations are not repeated”.
The Provolo victims have said they did not feel that the local church or the Vatican were protecting them.
“The Argentine court has given the traumatized children of Provolo a measure of justice that the Catholic church failed to give them,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the online research database BishopAccountability.org, to the Associated Press.
“The horror of Provolo is twofold: the torture of the children and the church’s failure to prevent it. We hope the prosecutors now will launch a criminal investigation of the archbishops and other church leaders who knew or should have known that the school was being run by a child molester.”
Doyle also said that “the pope too must accept responsibility for the unimaginable suffering of these children. He ignored repeated warnings that Corradi was in Argentina.”
Pope Francis has not commented publicly on the case, though in 2017, the Vatican sent two Argentine priests to investigate what happened in Mendoza.
Former students, young men and women, testified that the priests touched and sometimes raped them in their dormitories and school bathrooms. They also said they were forced to look at pornographic images. They said they were warned to keep quiet.
Investigators found records of complaints made by parents that weren’t followed up, photographs of a naked girl on Corbacho’s computer and chains he allegedly used to subdue one girl.
Many in Argentina have asked why Francis did not remove Corradi as the authority at the Mendoza school once he learned of the allegations in Verona.
Corradi’s name appeared publicly in 2009, when 67 people said they were abused at the Verona institute by 24 priests, lay people and religious brothers, and specifically said that Corradi was in Argentina.