Priest Who Violated Five Girls Is Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison
The Victims Are Between 5 and 12 Years Old
The abuses took place in a dining hall of a humble parish in Pilar. He was the only priest assigned there, despite the fact that he was already charged with abuse and it was recommended that he not have contact with children.
By Georgina Elustondo
November 13, 2007
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
He assumed his priesthood in San Juan, his birthplace, where he exercised the priesthood for years. In 1996, he was transferred to Buenos Aires after accusations of pedophilia. He spent two years in a dubious “rehabilitation center” for priests with behavioral problems, before leaving with the order to “not be in the company of children,” much less left alone. No matter: he was immediately assigned to a humble parish in Pilar, where they put him in charge of a community soup kitchen. There he sexually abused for more than two years at least five very impoverished girls who were between 5 and 12 years of age. Yesterday, the Justices sentenced him to 17 years in prison. Two more instances of similar crimes committed by him are still being processed.
His name is Mario Napoleón Sasso, he is 48 years old, and he was the vicar of Pilar, a city in the province of Buenos Aires. It’s been two years since he exercised his priesthood because he requested to be “relieved” in order to get married, while in captivity. Yesterday, the Criminal Court of San Isidro sentenced him to 17 years in prison for the sexual abuse of at least five girls who attended the community soup kitchen of his parish.
The district attorney’s office had asked for 35 years in prison, and so will take their complaint to the High Court. But they nevertheless expressed satisfaction with the job done by the Tribunal. In conversation with Clarín, Ernesto Moreau, lawyer for the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and representative for the victims, pointed out that the sentence is “good both for the victims and for society because the truth came to light and the aggressor was punished.”
“But the barbarism that this serial delinquent has committed deserved the maximum punishment. He did abhorrent things to five girls who will carry those crimes with them for the rest of their lives.”
Although the formalized sentence will be announced tomorrow, Moreau disclosed to Clarín some of the grounds for the sentence. “The tribunal emphasized the horror of Sasso’s actions. He took advantage of his authority in the chapel to violate for two years very poor and vulnerable girls who went to his dining hall out of hunger, seducing them with candy to take them to his room, locking them in the bathroom when someone arrived… He was very clever with the management of schedules, a very rational human being, perverted, and a great actor. He threatened the girls so that they didn’t say anything. His computer compromised him greatly. We are opening two other criminal cases because there are more victims.” The Court emphasized the “extreme poverty” of the victims, which worsened their exploitation, and the abuse of power by the priest, “sheltered” in his robes.
Sasso was transferred from San Juan to Buenos Aires for “problems” of pedophilia. He was interned at the aforementioned “rehabilitation center,” which he left in 1998 without medical clearance and “with three recommendations: not to be left alone, to always take his medication, and to never be in the company of children,” said Moreau, who continued: “However, he was immediately integrated into the parish of La Lonja de Pilar, a very poor place where he was designated the sole priest and put in charge of a soup kitchen. The Church has real responsibility for what happened. For this reason, three more criminal cases were opened.”
Clarín attempted to communicate with the bishop of Zarate-Campana, Oscar Sarlinga, but didn’t have any luck in reaching him. From ecclesial sources Clarín got these few words: “Sasso no longer exercised his priesthood, so the Church can no longer sanction or expel him, and has nothing more to do with respect to what happened,” adding that “in any case, the particular individual who ought to comment on it is the Bishop of San Juan.”
The case against Sasso initiated in November, 2003 with the complaint by an employee of the children’s dining hall in the parish of Pilar, who accused Sasso of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl who frequented the hall for meals. After the complaint and the coverage of the news on the television program Punto Doc, Sasso was a fugitive in Paraguay for 10 days and was later detained at a tollbooth in Pilar in January 2004.
The investigation against Sasso counted on the support of Sister Martha Pelloni, who organized the collection of signatures (she collected the signatures of 150 priests and 4,000 laypersons) to lend additional weight to the denouncements, and delivered them to the Apostolic Nunciature.
The sentence will not change things for the priest. He will continue to be held at the Olmos jail, where he’s been since 2004, in a VIP cell, a privilege that he’ll hold on to because of his status as minister of “religious worship.” Although he was “relieved” from his exercise of priesthood, “technically” being a priest isn’t something that can simply “be left and done with.”