Downcast and sitting in a wheelchair as his historic trial began Monday in Mendoza Province, the Reverend Nicola Corradi didn’t look like the man former students at an institute for the deaf say was the force behind years of “indescribable” torment through alleged sexual abuse.
The 83-year-old Italian priest, along with the Reverend Horacio Corbacho, 59, and Armando Gómez, 63, are being tried for 28 cases of alleged abuse against ex-students at the Antonio Próvolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children. They face prison sentences of up to 20 years in some cases, up to 50 years in others.
The alleged abuse took place between 2004 and 2016. Corbacho has pleaded not guilty to the sexual abuse charges, while Corradi and Gómez have not entered pleas. The trial is expected to last more than a month.
As the three accused – Corbacho and Gómez in handcuffs – were led down a long corridor in Mendoza’s Palace of Justice Monday to a court where three judges awaited them, alleged victims and their relatives protested outside, with one sign saying “With Our Hands And Our Voices We Break The Silence,” a reference to sign language.
“I am super-ner vous, anxious and I hope for justice; that this ends soon so my son can move on to a new stage because this is very hard,” said Natalia Villalonga, whose 18-year-old son Ezequiel is one of about 20 ex-students at the Próvolo institute who say they were abused.
“Those of us from the Próvolo in Mendoza say: ‘no more fear. We have the power,’” said Ezequiel.
The first day’s hearing lasted about two hours during which the charges against the men were read. They included rape, sexual touching and corrupting minors since the children were allegedly sometimes forced to watch pornography or perform sex acts among themselves.
It is the first in a series of trials involving other former members of the now-closed school. Others implicated include two nuns who allegedly participated or knew about the abuses, as well as former directors and employees who are accused of knowing about the abuse but taking no action.
Jorge Bordón, an institute employee, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 in the case for rape, sexual touching and corrupting minors.
The case touches close to the Vatican, which is accused of having disregarded the warnings of alleged Italian victims of Corradi. He was singled out for similar abuses committed since the 1950s at the Provolo institute in Verona. His name appeared in a letter addressed to the pope in 2014 in which the Italian accusers mentioned several allegedly abusive priests who continued to exercise the ministry and said that Corradi and three other priests were in Argentina.
The Verona diocese sanctioned four of the 24 defendants, but not Corradi. There was no criminal case because of the elapsed time.
Erica, the sister of a plaintiff who asked that her full name not be used, said the trial “gives me a lot of strength, because it could have never happened” because of the vulnerability of the children, who are poor and deaf or hard of hearing.
“I want to tell her that her word, which has been blocked by many social things, has a lot of value today. So much value that it could bring to justice people who were doing disastrous things for a long time,” she said.
On Tuesday, the trial was suspended until the following Wednesday, after an appeal from lawyers requested a psychiatric and psychological profile of Gómez, who faces stands accused of six crimes, be carried out.