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ARGENTINA | 29-09-2020 14:03

Prosecutors in Entre Ríos investigate claim priest raped nephew

Sergio Decuyper accuses his paternal uncle, Reverend José Francisco Decuyper, of raping him more than 35 years ago. 42-year-old says Pope Francis asked him not to file a criminal complaint.

Investigators in Entre Ríos Province are probing a new case of alleged historical sexual abuse by a priest from the Catholic Church, who stands accused of raping his nephew more than 35 years ago.

The probe refers to a complaint made by 42-year-old Sergio Decuyper, who has accused his paternal uncle, Reverend José Francisco Decuyper, of sexual abuse.

The incident allegedly took place at a family home near the city of Paraná, 480 kilometres northwest of Buenos Aires. Sergio alleges he was raped by the priest, who today is in his 80s.

The provincial Prosecutor's Unit for Gender Violence and Sexual Abuse confirmed on Monday that it had opened a case based on a criminal complaint against the octogenarian priest. 

Judicial officials are investigating the circumstances of the alleged incident and if there were other potential victims.

Leandro Dato, a member of the prosecutorial team, told The Associated Press on Monday that he taken testimony from the alleged victim via Skype. Decuyper currently resides in Spain.

In the coming days, Dato said investigators would work to "reconstruct his story," using the help of psychological experts. The elderly priest, who now lives at a residence for elderly Church members and reportedly suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, may face questioning.

The prosecutor said Decuyper's testimony was of value and said reports of the allegations in the local press could help persuade other victims to come forward. 

However, he acknowledged any potential prosecution would face serious obstacles, given the amount of time that had passed since the alleged crime and the alleged perpetrator's mental health.

Nevertheless, Dato said the prosecutor's unit had "an explicit indication to investigate this type of crime."

"It is good that people who have suffered [from such acts] decide to report them," he told The Associated Press.

 

Abuse allegations

Argentina has seen a number of high-profile Church sex abuse scandals rise to the fore in recent years, with high-profile cases in Mendoza and Entre Ríos garnering plenty of media attention. Earlier this year, Reverend Justo Ilarraz was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being found guilty of abusing at least seven young boys.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Sergio Decuyper said that he had decided to make a criminal complaint against hsi uncle after finding a programme of psychological counselling in July that brought him to terms with the "trauma" he had suffered. 

"Having done it is what helped me the most, not leaving this to myself," he told the news agency.

Decuyper also claimed that since last year he has spoken on several occasions with Pope Francis and with the Archbishop of Paraná, Juan Alberto Puiggari, about his experiences.

The alleged victim said that he had been asked by Church leaders not to go ahead with a criminal complaint, claiming that Puiggari had called him in January to ask about the possibility of "closing the previous investigation," a reference to a Church-law probe initiated by the Vatican. The archbishop reportedly pointed to the deteriorating health of his alleged abuser.

Decuyper, who describes himself as a non-practising Catholic, said he agreed to it "because he was in therapy" and did not have the energy to deal with the matter at the time. However, he now says he has changed his mind and wants the Vatican to fully investigate the allegations.

The Associated Press tried to reach Puiggari to verify those claims but was unable to do so. 

For its part, the Vatican's Secretariat of State did send a dated letter to Decuyper by email, in which it recommended that he contact a canonical expert in Madrid to "express his concerns." The Vatican has not spoken publicly about Decuyper's comments.

Decuyper said that he wrote to Pope Francis in February 2019, before receiving a phone call from the Argentine pontiff the following month. Eventually, in September he was able to meet in person with Francis at a public hearing in Rome held on September 9. 

According to the 42-year-old, after being reminded of his case, the pope asked Decuyper not to make a criminal complaint against his uncle, saying that the accused priest was "insane and lost."

“He asked me for silence because he is thinking that I have to forgive my abuser, but staying silent is bad for me; that destroyed my health," lamented the alleged victim, who has recently came out as gay after separating from his partner, with whom he had two children.

“I got married young. With my ex-wife we ​​were super religious. Even today we consider ourselves Catholic although not so practicing," he told Noticias in an interview last week, expanding on his reasons for his criminal complaint and why he wanted to publicise the allegations and see if there were more victims.

"We lived in Madrid until a year ago, when we came to the Basque Country. Although we are separated, we do work together. Very recently I came out of the closet. My life looks like an [Pedro] Almodóvar movie. I was always gay, but because of my upbringing, I couldn't take it on . The one who helped me come to terms with it was my ex-wife. She was also the one who realised that I had many symptoms of abuse," he said.

 

– TIMES/AP/NOTICIAS [Original reporting by Giselle Leclercq and Almundena Calatrava]

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