Pedophilia in the Church: Silence or Condemnation?
This is Bergoglio’s challenge now that he’s faced with sex abuse accusations against Father Ilarraz in Paraná
by Daniel Enz
March 28, 2013
[Translated into English by BishopAccountability.org. Click below to see original article in Spanish.]
Pedophile priests are a sad reality of the Catholic Church and no one knows where Pope Francis stands on the matter. Shortly after he was elected, the Pope gave an initial indication of where he stands by questioning the presence in the Catholic Church of Cardinal Bernard Law, accused of covering up the abuses of some 250 pedophile priests in the U.S. Even so, his undeclared stance [on the crisis] has elicited, and continues to elicit, worrisome doubts.
In Argentina, there are pedophile priests whose actions have been covered up for years by the ecclesiastical leadership. The sexual abuse of former students at Paraná Seminary is the most egregious case that the Argentine Church presently faces. It’s uncertain how many more 13- to 15-year-old children were abused between 1984 and 1992 by Father Justo José Ilarraz, a native of Paraná. After an internal investigation by the Church in the mid 90s, Ilarraz was found guilty and, as a sanction, was forbidden from stepping foot in the diocese. He was assigned to the city of Monteros, in Tucumán Province.
The criminal trial, initiated last September following the publication of an investigative report in Análisis magazine, features the testimony of seven victims, but there are at least 10 other former seminarians who have agreed to denounce the abuses. Before they do, however, they want the man who they’ve pointed to as their abuser, Ilarraz, who is thus far the only individual under indictment, to testify and be confined in prison.
Alejandro Grippo, the presiding judge of First Instance Criminal Court of Paraná, will have the next few days to resolve the request made by the priest’s lawyers to discontinue the case based on the statute of limitations. There’s good reason to believe that he’ll reject their request, although the defense appeals will run their course until the Court declares the verdict final.
A clear definition from Bergoglio concerning the case would naturally have an impact on the Argentine justice system and on the administrative leadership of the Church of Paraná, which for decades covered up these abuses.
The first person [implicated in the cover up] was former military vicar and Archbishop of Paraná, Adolfo Tortolo (who at one time justified the cruelties of dictator Jorge Videla), for concealing the abuses committed at the Seminary in the decade of the 1960s. Next to cover up the abuses was Cardinal and former Archbishop of Entre Ríos Province, Monsignor Estanislao Esteban Karlic, who was a protector of Ilarraz, and whose favorable treatment allowed Ilarraz to remain in the ministry, although he is currently serving a suspension from his priestly functions, and has taken refuge at a family member’s house in San Miguel de Tucumán. He has not been seen publicly since.
The case advanced in the Court despite telephone calls made to several of the victims by priests with ties to Karlic and the present Archbishop of Paraná, Monsignor Juan Puiggari. The telephone calls were made to develop a rapport with the victims and keep them from declaring in court. A few succumbed to the pressure, while others went to court all the same. Seven of the victims -- many of whom didn’t know one another and were in different graduating classes -- ultimately testified and revealed the perversities that Ilarraz had committed against them at the Seminary.
The majority of the abused children gave full confessions to their families, revealing the suffering they experienced 25 years earlier at the Seminary. There was pressure exerted by the Church hierarchy, which, in 1992, after initiating a perfunctory ecclesiastical investigation, forbade the victims from revealing what happened. Most obeyed. The few children who didn’t were made by the Church to testify under oath in the presence of Karlic, without psychological support or the company of their parents. Several of the victims have serious psychological disorders and there were more than a few suicide attempts by some of them.
When the criminal complaint was filed, Cardinal Karlic stopped attending meetings with political officials and public functionaries. He was scarcely present at religious events in the city and he took refuge at Paraná Seminary, where he resided until leaving his position as archbishop. Whenever a reporter approached him to ask about the abuses in Paraná, he avoided their questions.
Karlic’s public image was abruptly tarnished with the revelation of his significant involvement in the cover-up of the abuses committed by Ilarraz. “I’m in grief,” said the cardinal, at the same time that he insisted on the “duty to forgive” and the necessity “to tell the truth, since the truth will set us free.” Karlic always said he’d forgiven Ilarraz and believed the priest was repentant. The Office of the Archbishop’s permanent strategy was to use stall tactics and thereby have the statute of limitations go into effect.
In Monteros, the small town in Tucumán that gave shelter to Ilarraz, representatives of the clergy were certain that the alleged victims there wouldn’t be motivated to confess Ilarraz’s abuses. Several of his family members even went to Monteros to delegitimize the accusations. “He’ll soon return to the parish,” one of Ilarraz’s brothers chanted repeatedly when Sunday Mass let out.
Cardinal Karlic didn’t openly endorse to his parishioners the firm position taken by his friend, Benedict XVI, regarding the abusive priests and the care that should be given to the victims. Neither did he do it before or after Benedict’s decision to officially retire and break with a 600-year history, and nobody knows what Karlic will do after the arrival of Bergoglio, with whom he hardly has any contact.
The blow to the Church was strong, both inside and out. Church attendance dropped and students deserted Catechism class. The large majority of priests, who characterized themselves as behaving consistently and staying committed [to their ideals], had to keep quiet. Some of them left the ministry. The only one to break this wall of silence was Father Leonardo Tovar, of San Benito Parish, near the capital city of Entre Ríos. “We aren’t doing the Church any favors by failing to testify and tell the truth, or by covering up situations that are painful and difficult. By doing so, we suffer greatly,” he said.
It was always apparent that the ecclesiastical leadership was primarily preoccupied with the possible image of Father Ilarraz leaving the courthouse in handcuffs en route to the local jail. No one knows if this will happen. If it doesn’t, all the better [for the Church] that the priest never faces the judge and the case dies a slow death, with no care or consideration for the victims, their pain and suffering, their traumas, their suicide attempts, and the ghosts that stalk them for life, that cause them to not have stable relationships or form families of their own, as they doubtlessly dreamed of doing many times.
If this ultimately transpires, complicity and cover-up will once again have the final word in the history books. The perpetrators and those who covered up their abuses will perhaps celebrate their victory in battle. But nothing will be able to reverse the image of a disgraced Church that chose to enable the ascendance of certain priests, at the cost of pushing their victims down the well of oblivion.