Victims and relatives have called for an "end to delays" in the trial of two nuns and seven other women accused of complicity in the sexual abuse of deaf children at the Antonio Próvolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Mendoza Province, which was postponed last week due to a case of coronavirus.
The second trial in this case, which has shaken up the Catholic Church in the homeland of Pope Francis and which has already seen two priests sentenced to 40-year prison terms in 2019, was postponed last Monday for a fortnight when the defence lawyers pleaded that one of them is in isolation due to Covid-19.
"The defence lawyers of the nuns have been playing their little tricks for 18 months now. They have no other way of delaying the trial because they have nothing in their favour. If it’s a case of Covid, OK, we’ll wait until May, but then let’s not have one case of Covid and then another," warned Ariel Lizarraga, the father of Daiana, the first to denounce the abuses at the Mendoza centre, speaking to AFP.
The accused nuns are Kosaka Kumiko, a Japanese under house arrest, and Asunción Martínez, born in Paraguay. Also in the dock are the Próvolo Institute’s legal representative, a psychologist, a cook and four directors during the period between 2004 and 2016 when the abuses and rapes of children aged between four and 17 years occurred.
"We understand the context of pandemic but it’s time to put an end to the delays. We need this trial to begin and be resolved so that we can carry on with our lives, restoring their rights to the victims," adds Érica Labeguerie, the sister of Claudia, another of the victims who today is 27 years old and the mother of a boy.
The trial, with around 100 witnesses due to testify, "is highly important because it will mark closure for a great deal of pain and re-victimisation."
"The nuns were those in charge of housing the girls, imparting great terror and an essential part of everything happening in the institution," affirms Erica Labeguerie.
The accused will have to answer in court for not having denounced the abuses. Kumiko is also accused of fondling some of the 14 victims who testified in Cámara Gesell courthouse.
"I know we’re going to win this trial but for my daughter the damage is permanent, irreparable. The accompaniment of the family is small anaesthetic for this pain. The trauma suffered, the atrocities inflicted on them will never be forgotten," warned Lizarraga.
Daiana’s father maintains that the accused "knew everything which was going on. If they had denounced them, the rapes would have stopped."
"We’re talking about children and adolescents who bled and screamed in pain. A conviction with a severe sentence is really to be expected," adds lawyer Sergio Salinas representing nine victims.
Carlos Varela Álvarez, who is defending the two nuns of the Hermanas de la Huerta congregation, deplores what he considers his clients being convicted in advance by public opinion.
The evidence has been "manipulated and twisted," he assured AFP, insisting that he is defending "people who are pleading their innocence in the face of a public opinion which has convicted them in advance and a court system prepared for that."
This new trial is unfolding after in November, 2019, the court sentenced 61-year-old Argentine priest Horacio Corbacho and 85-year-old Italian priest Nicola Corradi to 45 and 42 years imprisonment respectively for the sexual abuse and rape of children at the Próvolo Institute. The convictions have been upheld.
Also sentenced were gardener Armando Gómez and former altar boy Jorge Bordón to 18 and 10 years respectively after pleading guilty in an abbreviated trial in 2018.
Corradi arrived in Argentina in 1970 from the Próvolo Institute in Verona, Italy, where the order for teaching the deaf and dumb originated and where abuse has already been denounced, taking charge of the La Plata branch of the institute and then from 1998 in Mendoza where he was remanded in custody on November 26, 2016.
Abuse has also been denounced at the Próvolo Institute in La Plata where the charges are being investigated without yet coming to trial in the Buenos Aires provincial capital.
"The Catholic Church is covering up. Not only do they not supply evidence but they hide it. The Vatican keeps demonstrating that they want to keep covering up," affirms Salinas.
by Maximiliano Ríos & Liliana Samuel, AFP