Two nuns and seven other woman accused of complicity in the sexual abuse of children at the Antonio Próvolo Institute for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children in Mendoza Province went on trial on Monday after Covid-related delays.
The trial is to take place in the city of Mendoza, without press access. None of the defendants were physically in court, but participated by video transmission, judicial sources said. The trial was postponed back in April after one defence lawyer claimed to be in isolation due to Covid-19.
This is the second trial in the case for crimes committed between 2004 and 2016 at the Próvolo Institute. In 2019, two priests in charge of children at the centre were jailed for more than 40 years each in November 2019 for sexual abuse, including rape, of some 20 minors. The victims were aged between four and 17 at the time.
Several staff at the school were taken into custody after allegations of abuse first surfaced in 2016, and the institute was shut down.
First up on trial were Argentine priest Horacio Corbacho, sentenced to 45 years in jail, and Italian Nicola Corradi, who got 42 years behind bars. The institution's gardener, Armando Gómez, was jailed for 18 years for sexual abuse, and a former altar boy, now in his 50s, was given a sentence of 10 years after pleading guilty to the sexual abuse of five children.
The accused in the dock this time round is Japanese nun Kumiko Kosaka, 46, accused of aggravated sexual abuse and covering up the crimes. She is currently being held under house arrest.
Another nun, Paraguayan Asunción Martínez, 53, stands accused of "corruption of minors" concealing the crimes. 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 occurred.
"Without the nuns who were in charge of the children, the social worker, the directors, without all that structure none of this would have been possible. Corbacho and Corradi were not alone," said Erica Labeguerie, sister of Claudia, a victim of the abuse.
Ariel Lizarraga, the father of another victim, 29-year-old Daiana, said: "They covered up everything, preventing them [the children] from learning sign language so that it would not come out."
Defence lawyer Carlos Varela Álvarez, representing the two nuns, said that "without a doubt, there has been an early media and social conviction" in a public statement issued this Monday.
Álvarez argued that Kosaka had most negatively affected by public opinion, having been “detained for four years without a sentence.” The defence lawyer also questioned the work of the prosecution interpreters who translated the statements of abused minors into sign language.
It is estimated that the process will last about six months and will call more than a hundred witnesses.
"The families are expectant," said Labeguerie. "It is as if a door was opened that enables many memories, an infinite sadness because nothing is going to give us back everything that was stolen from us."
Founded in 1995, the Antonio Próvolo Institute offered free education to children of modest origins who had hearing and speech difficulties, with on-site boarding during the school week.
The Catholic Church has been shaken by a string of child sex abuse scandals in recent years; in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Australia.
by Sonia Avalos, AFP