Vatican still refusing to expel priests condemned in Próvolo case
Convictions and sentencing of two priests for rape and sexual abuse of minors reignites controversy around Holy See's protection of members of the Catholic Church facing such allegations, many of whom continue to be supported by the institution.
This week's convictions of priests Horacio Corbacho and Nicola Corradi for the sexual abuse of minors at the Antonio Próvolo Institute in Mendoza exposes yet another failure by the Vatican to act and respond to judicial sentences against members of the Catholic Church.
In a historic judgment, both priests were convicted for the repeated rape and abuse of deaf students at the school in Luján de Cuyo. Corbacho received 45 years in prison for his crimes and Corradi received 42 years. The institution's former gardener, Armando Gómez, was given 18 years behind bars.
The rules that govern the priesthood and the Catholic Church are distinct from the laws that govern countries or international bodies. Therefore, the majority of priests that have been condemned of sexual abuse crimes in Argentina haven't yet been expelled from the Church.
When it comes to priests, the word "excommunication" isn't used. Instead, a separate categorisation – namely "expulsion from the clerical state" – is used instead. It's the maximum penalty under the canonical processes, but it's rarely applied.
"For there to be a sanction there has to be an investigation regulated by canonical law, which is a set of rules that violates all the guarantees of that process," explained Carlos Lombardi, a legal representative from the Network of Survivors of Ecclesiastical Sexual Abuse in Argentina.
"Cannon law violates all the international laws around human rights. The participation of victims is nulled. They can only give the complaint, but they can't name a defense attorney nor can they know who else has participated in the case [...] the entire investigation is secret," he added.
According to Lombardi, there have only been four cases of "expulsion" in Argentina after a legal conviction.
"The rule of thumb is that they don't expel them, but rather that they maintain [their[ membership even when there's a certain conviction. Expulsion is the exception, but it's very difficult to know the criteria used because everything is kept hidden," he said.
The case of Father Julio César Grassi is emblematic of this confusion.
In 2017, the Supreme Court sentenced Grassi, an Argentine priest, to 15 years in jail for aggravated sexual abuse of a child he met through his Fundación Felices los Niños organisation.
Still, he never had any canonical process initiated against him by the Holy See.
"It's the perfect case because there's a person who received a sentence that was confirmed in all the country's courts, including the highest court, the Supreme Court," said Juan Pablo Gallego, an attorney for a plaintiff in the case, during a telephone call with Perfil.
"Here he wasn't just not excommunicated, nor sanctioned, nor restricted in his faculties as a priest. He was also included in the process of prerparation for when then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio knew he'd be becoming Pope Francis. He was favourable to Grassi."
He added: "He [Pope Francis] said he's innocent and that he was convicted without proof, despite the fact that the sentence had been confirmed by the Supreme Court."
This year, Pope Francis signed a Vatican document. In Latin, it was titled "Vos estix lux mundi" ("You are the light of the world"). With it, the Argentine pontiff tried to modify the Catholic Church's response of allegations of abuse, urging priests to denounce them.
But despite these gestures, the canonical process continues to be dictated by internal formalities and secret investigations.
"They say it's more transparent. That's false. They say the process is in favour of the victims. That's also false," refuted Lombardi.
"They say they've adjusted their own judicial rules. But those rules run contrary to international agreements on human rights. Everything is ready and organised to defend the priests."