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ARGENTINA | 04-05-2019 10:32

Activists demand Pope Francis ensure ‘zero tolerance’ in Argentina

Activists descended on the capital this week, calling for Pope Francis to guarantee the implementation of the Vatican’s “zero tolerance” for sexual abuses by clergy in Argentina.

The activists say the policy has not been carried out in the pontiff’s homeland.

Local group Church Without Abuses (“Iglesia sin Abusos”) and the global organisations Ending Clergy Abuse and BishopAccountability.org joined forces in Buenos Aires on Thursday to urge Francis to return to his homeland of Argentina – which he hasn’t visited since becoming pope in 2013 – to ensure the Catholic Church punishes these crimes and does not protect perpetrators.

“If the Pope cannot end abuses and cover-ups in Argentina, he will not be able to do it anywhere else. This is where he has more power, influence, it is symbolically the most important country in the fight against abuse in the world,” Peter Isely, the co-founder of Ending Clergy Abuse and abuse victim, told The Associated Press news agency.

Isley and representatives of other activist groups gathered near the Monsignor Mariano Espinosa Home for Priests (El Hogar Sacerdotal Monseñor Mariano Espinosa) in Caballito, displaying signs calling for zero tolerance for sex abuses. A local priest accused of committing abuse had previously been housed there.

Pope Francis is on record as describing abuse as a “monstrosity” and previously vowed to tackle the problem “with the utmost seriousness.” Isley said he was not doing enough.

“In February, the Pope declared a war against abuses to be open, calling the abusive priests ‘bloodthirsty wolves.’ But what is happening in his own country?” Isley added, saying the pontiff “has not been on the side of the victims.”

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online resource Bishopaccountability.org, said that while in other countries thousands of cases of abuse have been detected, in Argentina almost no criminal investigations or litigation have been seen. There is no official registry collating judicial complaints about abuses committed by members of the clergy in Argentina.

“In his 14 years as archbishop of Buenos Aires he only sent two allegations to the Vatican regarding sexual abuse in his diocese,” said Barrett Doyle.

“We ask the Church to stop covering up [the crimes], and to turn them [the perpetrators] over to justice,” said the co-founder of Church Without Abuses, Julieta Añasco, 47, who abused in her childhood by a priest.

The Associated Press compiled a list of 66 priests, nuns and other religious workers who, between 2001 and 2017, were accused of abusing dozens of people, most of them children. The figure was obtained from victims’ testimonies, judicial and ecclesiastical documents, and local media reports corroborated with the BishopAccountability.org database. In several cases there were no canonical or judicial investigations.

The AP tried to reach the head of the Argentine Synod, Óscar Ojea, but he was not available because he was preparing to travel to the Vatican.

Ojea said in documents released when he returned from a conference on the protection of minors held in February in Rome that the meeting “sensitized us into making being on the side of the victims our top priority” and to “discard all forms of concealment.”

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